ADCS president suggests national pay rates for agency social workers to reduce staff churn

Charlotte Ramsden says regional schemes to co-ordinate locum pay have had mixed results, but BASW and agency body voice concerns over national caps

Charlotte Ramsden
Charlotte Ramsden (source: ADCS)

A directors’ leader has suggested introducing national pay rates for agency staff to bring consistency to locum wages and help ease recruitment challenges for local authorities.

In an interview with Community Care, Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) president Charlotte Ramsden said national caps could help overcome the issue of councils breaching existing regional agreements to curb agency worker costs.

A Department for Education (DfE) survey of directors last year found that, while 96% of authorities were a signatory to a regional memorandum of co-operation, just 26% of directors thought they had been useful in reducing the number of agency staff and 44% in reducing the cost.

The main reasons cited for them not working were individual councils – particularly those with low Ofsted ratings – not complying. Ramsden said it was hard for local authorities not to exceed regional pay limits when they had a large number of vacancies and had received a negative Ofsted report.

“When the chips are down, you’ve got a large number of social work vacancies, unallocated cases and perhaps you are an ‘inadequate’ authority, you are not going to sit there and say ‘oh I’ll wait until someone comes along willing to take the low rate of pay’, I’ll pay more,” she said.

However, she said the current system was not good for children as it sometimes led to agency workers leaving mid-contract to work for an authority paying a higher rate.

‘Not good for children or staff’

“At the moment an agency worker might arrive in my authority, supposedly there for four or five months, and then two weeks later somebody’s put out a call and they are paying significantly more on a day rate so that social worker would say ‘sorry, I’m off,’” she said.

“But if you had allocated them cases, that’s not good for the children, it’s not great for the staff.”

She said that a national approach, with London weighting, would help.

“If we were able to have more of a national agreement about pay rates for basic rates of social workers, that might just stop some of that issue,” she added.

Regional experience

The memorandum of co-operation between London boroughs, published in 2019, set maximum rates, including national insurance and holiday pay, ranging from £25 per hour for a newly qualified social worker to £42 per hour for a team manager.

Nick Hollier, regional lead for the London memorandum, said some authorities were exceeding these pay levels, which the agreement allows for in “exceptional circumstances”.

“Boroughs continue to report that there are breaches of the memorandum, particularly where authorities have had adverse Ofsted judgements,” he said.

“Further discussions with the Association of London Directors of Children’s Services group are taking place to ensure continued commitment to the memorandum.”

The latest Department for Education workforce figures showed that agency staff accounted for 15.4% of social work roles in statutory children’s services roles as of September 2020, a rate that has been broadly stable since 2013.

Calls to reduce agency rates

However, there has been renewed focus on reducing agency staff costs and turnover from national leaders in recent weeks.

Children’s minister Vicky Ford raised concerns about agency costs and staff churn, in a speech to the annual ADCS conference this month, saying she was keen to share learning from authorities that had “made fantastic progress in driving down their agency rates”.

Meanwhile, the government-commissioned children’s social care review called for reductions in agency social work use to reduce costs and turnover, in its ‘case for change’, published last month.

“A widespread and long-term reliance on short-term staff inevitably has a negative impact on children and families, who face disruption in their relationships with services, as well as creating significant additional costs to local authorities, diverting funding that could potentially have been used to deliver additional support to children and families,” it said.

The review declined to comment on whether it would consider a national pay cap as a potential solution.

National cap concerns

However, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) expressed concern at the idea of a national cap lest it result in cuts to locum social workers’ pay.

“If there was to be a national cap, I’d be very concerned if that was felt by individual social workers,” said Gavin Moorghen, BASW England professional officer, who added that he was not aware of agency staff “making extortionate amounts of money”.

He said the focus should be on improving working conditions to encourage staff to move into and stay in permanent roles and address the causes of attrition.

“Maybe if they focused on that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation about there being too many agency workers,” he added.

Agency firms also pushed back against the idea of a national cap.

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) said it was important that agency worker rates recognised the “onerous compliance requirements; including referencing and right to work checks” undertaken by recruiters.

“We are concerned that any proposed caps will not necessarily take into account the internal and external costs of on boarding compliance and placement and candidate management,” said Tania Bowers, legal counsel and head of public policy at APSCo.

“Additionally, in our experience, in a candidate short market, hirers are willing to circumvent the caps, which can reduce transparency and clarity of the supply chain.”

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32 Responses to ADCS president suggests national pay rates for agency social workers to reduce staff churn

  1. Chrissie Martin July 23, 2021 at 4:51 pm #

    If Local Authorities treated their staff properly in terms of making them feel a valued member of staff, addressing with vigour all incidents of bullying and supporting the whistle-blowing policy amongst many other issues, staff may not feel they have no option but to leave.

  2. Thomas July 23, 2021 at 4:56 pm #

    Standardising pay rates is not a solution on its own…there are a number of other factors such as support, team culture, distance travelled etc..agency work is no way different to permanent job in those respects.

  3. Clare Barker July 23, 2021 at 5:08 pm #

    How short sighted. In my experience, as an agency worker, Locums leaving contracts early is usually down to realisation either of toxic working conditions, overload of case work (on top of the overload that permanent staff have) “because you’re an agency worker.” Very few I have met have moved for more money.

  4. J Prior July 23, 2021 at 5:15 pm #

    As someone who has worked as a locum for many years I must point out that it has never been about the pay rate but the autonomy and working conditions in a council that makes the difference for my staying or leaving. In my experience it is more usual that funding is pulled by the councils I’ve worked for, or the conditions verge on unethical than otherwise. This reporting feeds the myth that we are just ‘ in it for the money ‘ which I find offensive.

  5. Phil Hutty July 23, 2021 at 5:32 pm #

    So nobody has thought to ask why do local authorities have those vacancies which have to be filled by agency staff in the first place?

    And if you think it’s just about the money then I suggest you think again!

    nobody comes into this profession to make money. Certainly you want to be paid a fair wage for the work you do, but as the average life of a social worker staying in the profession becoming ever more frighteningly low, when will people understand that you will always have agencies with the associated higher costs whilst you pretend that the role and culture of social worker is working.

    This is not a dig at individual authorities, but it is surely time that collectively we look at what we do and why we do it, recognise the true cost that’s not just time and resources but also emotional impact and as a nation make a decision that if we are going to effectively work with venerable people we cannot just be social policemen any more.

  6. Luke stevens July 23, 2021 at 5:33 pm #

    Is this not a very old issue with quite a simple solution? Make permanent work more appealing/competitive?

    Agency work is maybe not just about money. Sometimes knowing there is a 3 or 6 month contract with a transparent end date can for some, really help manage the pressures of local authority social work. Particularly in longer term teams.

    My 2p.

  7. Abdul July 23, 2021 at 5:36 pm #

    Hmm. Let me get this straight. The President of ADCS – who earns a top ‘President’s Salary’ to reflect her ‘senior status’ wants to ‘devalue, oppress, and marginalise Agency Social Worker’s further, by taking away ‘what little they already have’. This lady is way out of touch with Social Workers already, given she has failed to articulate there is no ‘paid overtime’ in this country for Social Worker’s, and the majority of Social Worker’s – especially statutory social worker’s, work an enormous amount of additional hours over their 9am-5pm (I work around 20-25 hours extra per week for free, and for no extra pay or toil) to keep up with an excessive and unreasonable workload. This country has been taking advantage of Social Worker’s generosity and goodwill for far too long, and yet they are not grateful, and still want more. This lady does not realise the system she is apart of, only exists, because of all the excessive unpaid work that social worker’s already do, so what about paying us back for all the ‘free’ work we have done for decades! If agency social worker’s pay is cut, there will be no incentive to be a Social Worker anymore, as personally I would rather work a ‘double shift’ at Tesco to get paid the same, and be able to leave each day happy in the knowledge I don’t have to worry about completing a court report, visiting a child, or a child being at risk. There is ‘no secret’ to hiring and retaining staff’ – improve wages, improve conditions, hire more staff, reduce caseloads, hire more admin and support staff. Problem solved.

    • Lisa July 26, 2021 at 11:20 am #

      Well said!! I am an agency worker and have been for around 3.5 years. Reasons being I have more flexibility with my holidays, if there is bad culture in an organisation I can leave in a reasonable time and take leave if I feel I need it.
      I do not take much holiday due to no pay.
      I have worked for authorities who give agency staff all of the high needs/risk cases. Never allocated correctly.

    • Dean July 29, 2021 at 3:28 pm #

      Well put, if councils had to pay overtime they would soon realise its cheaper to hire more staff. as a council employee we have had our essential car user pay stopped wage increases well below inflation, desks taken away. only wish we had a strong collective voice that would stand up for us.

    • Terry Deen August 3, 2021 at 9:21 pm #

      I Totally agree. High caseloads, poor working conditions no overtime paid, staff having to pay to park, no essential car user allowance and an absolute expectation that social workers provide many hours of free labour. Then on top of all this condescending senior managers that refuse to accept the issues that are obvious to every social worker.

  8. James Mckeeman July 23, 2021 at 5:38 pm #

    I have been a locum for many years. I have never known social workers to move authority, after a short time for more money. In my experience, when a practitioner moves after a short time it is always relating to their concerns around practise issues.

  9. Ray Ward July 23, 2021 at 5:39 pm #

    Fine, set them at the highest regional rate, best rate in West Yorkshire is £35 an hour.

  10. Elle July 23, 2021 at 6:06 pm #

    I have worked as a locum during my career and additional costs of training, insurance, time to undertake training, and paying National Insurance and pension, mean the final income is pretty much the same. I can see crisis looming if they reduced the hourly rate as no one would bother to do it. And of course, sick pay and annual leave. Nope, it wouldn’t be worth it.

  11. Fred Uppe July 23, 2021 at 7:24 pm #

    It seems ridiclous to try and reduce payment to Locums when some services are on their knees trying to meet demand. In addition, no mention has been made of IR 35 punitive Tax measures placed upon Locums and ISWs who were registering as Limited Companies. This option in previous years served to give independent SWs the same perks as independent Plumbers, Roofers, and Electricians . Where did these perks go? Into the government coffers.

    I think the views of Charlotte Ramsden in this article reflect the greed of our government and a wish to control a profession where recruitment is difficult.

    The lesson: Treat the staff you have with good pay and conditions. Also, less regulation and more training and encourage a non directive management style.

    Perhaps leaving this profession and retraining for other professions will be the solution for many. For others, it may be to take different professional qualifications from the beginning.

  12. peter griffiths July 23, 2021 at 9:48 pm #

    Let us cut Social Workers pay is the message from Tory minister Ms Ford. Agency staff only. Now when studying to qualify as a SW I recall learning all about discimination . Did you Ms Ford? Perhaps SWs in England need to be looking elsewhere for a pay inrease. A quick look at a USA job site and hospital SWs are offered a salery of approx £54000 compared to just £26000-34000 in England

  13. Alison July 23, 2021 at 10:04 pm #

    On planet BASW: ok for national pay awards and fixed pay grades for permanent staff. But “concerned” at the idea of a national cap lest it means cut in agency workers pay.

  14. Lindylar July 24, 2021 at 9:28 am #

    With the greatest respect, Ms Ramsden needs a reality check. Agency workers do not leave because they’ve been offered a couple of extra pounds an hour elsewhere, they have more integrity than that, it’s because as soon as they get their laptop, along with it comes about 25 cases which they are expected to hit the ground running with, usually the most complex, in a mess & children having not been seen! How can you possibly expect anyone to get their head round that??
    I totally agree with Mr Moorghen where he talks about the conditions for workers to be improved, having worked in Social Care for 38 years I’ve seen significant changes & deterioration, don’t tell me the buildings are better & we’ve got electronic systems, it’s reasonable caseloads & time to actually do some meaningful direct work with children that’s needed, we all know that but it keeps going round & round. And how many more external ‘experts’ do we need to tell us what’s wrong in our profession? Walk in my shoes for a month & I’ll show you.

  15. Christ Coopers July 25, 2021 at 10:26 pm #

    I must be the only agency worker who is one because of the better hourly rate of pay and the freedom to move on when I choose to with total control of my work life balance. If not for this why be an agency worker? Honesty about higher pay doesn’t make for a less committed social worker. Our permanent colleagues now what we are about so why not own it?

  16. John Simpson July 27, 2021 at 3:34 pm #

    You would think that the ADCS president would understand the fundamentals of supply and demand! I’ll help by explaining it. When demand is high, the cost will be higher to allocate to that resource. When the demand is low, the cost falls. As we have a huge demand for social workers, and the choices to work almost anywhere, what possess the ADCS to think they can ignore the realities of commerce? If local authority’s want to retain and recruit staff then stop treating them badly and improve their working conditions. Just look at what happened when Northamptonshire withdrew from the national framework! Social workers left (in their droves) and now the local authority is spending over £2 millions on agency workers. Proof, if proof is needed that workers are not fungible.

  17. Steve Stuart July 27, 2021 at 7:25 pm #

    It is clear that the failure of control efforts are the same as those why there are issues in Childrens Services generally…they are not properly resourced.

    MoUs were not designed to reduce the use of agency staff so to use this as a measure of success is somewhat odd.

    However in the West Midlands agency rates which were rising at 20% per year were pegged for 5 years. The differential between temp and perm rates narrowed as a result. Pressures in individual councils were not solved by just upping rates which would impact significantly on neighbouring authroties which were similarly struggling for adequate resource but by clever and bespoke solutions which reinforced rather than weakened the regional policy.

    Now though the resource in control has been lost and (avoidable) costs will be millions more this year than last.

  18. Killian July 28, 2021 at 2:28 pm #

    Except that the capitalist market determinants only seem to apply to senior staff. There is apparently a magically determined market pay rate for the supremely talented and highly skilled CEOs, Directors and myriad executives who would otherwise land jobs in the private sector such is their unique expertise. For us fodder pay has to be “affordable” and vacancies a “challenge” we can cope with if we were “flexible.” Your barely manageable work loads, unpaid overtime and never claimed time owing is the proof of it.

  19. Paul July 28, 2021 at 2:41 pm #

    This response Charlotte is to simplistic. Firstly, local authorities and trusts need address why workers do not want to stay with them. The reasons obvious, not enough perm staff, high case loads, number crunching culture and blame down cultures. Secondly, it will.not address geographical demands, many areas have a low pool of local skilled workers. Thirdly, social work is not seen by a valued profession, lacking to attract new workers. Finally, the damage done by Hammond in preventing locums claiming basic expenses when working away has resulted in many isolated authorities offering higher pay rates and, at a cost to council tax payer, £100 -£150pw towards accommodation (yet mps etc are not penalised as such).setting a national rate may favour central areas, but will leave areas like south west and northern England unable recruit.

  20. Juliet Valentine Windsor July 28, 2021 at 6:07 pm #

    I have been a LA Social Worker for a long time. I decided to become an Agency worker to help balance my work/ home life as I wished. I have to say, I don’t make extortionate amounts of money, albeit only slightly better than my colleagues in permanent roles. Additionally, I don’t get sick pay or paid annual leave either. Notwithstanding this, I chose to work this way – just like any other Social Worker can, should they wish to do so. I fear this article serves only to wedge further resentment between Agency staff and permanent staff over poor pay in the first instance.

    I have not met any other colleagues that have left after a couple of weeks for ‘better hourly pay.’ What an insult! Without Agency workers propping up LA’s everywhere, services will continue to struggle! What gives Ms Ramsden the right to discriminate, devalue, oppress and marginalise Agency staff by threatening to cap hourly rates?
    The solution is simple-INCREASE ALL SOCIAL WORKERS PAY in line with Agency rates. Come on BASW start a national campaign to increase ALL Social Workers pay.

    • Jo July 30, 2021 at 6:58 am #

      Fully agree with you in my council its been agency staff holding the workforce together and perm have had the luxury of going off sick long term suring covid agency havent if they have its been with no pay.

      It is so insulting in 14 years as a locum ive had 4 contracts i tend to stick around in a council the longest 5 years and know lots of sws that do the same

  21. Carrie July 29, 2021 at 6:58 am #

    Agency workers do leave jobs after a short time if what we are sold has not matched the reality. We just need to be honest about this. Being defensive is counterproductive and more importantly irritating to our permanent colleagues. Agency workers may not have left after 2 weeks but I left one job after 3 weeks. Case complexity for the pay offered was the main reason. All workers are exploited but in my experience some managers take particular joy out of bullying Agency workers because we don’t really have much employment protection. This is why we would not work for the same pay rate as permanent staff.

  22. Colin July 29, 2021 at 7:28 am #

    Strange silence from BASW about umbrella companies for agency workers. A conflict of interest issue perhaps?

  23. J Pate July 30, 2021 at 3:18 pm #

    What an uneducated – small minded article.

    It’s about time these directors of children’s devices sorted their own selves out! How about banning agency directors? I can name 25 local authorities that currently have temporary or agency chief executives. Should be paid 70-100k currently charging 400k-1 million a year – and then they have the cheek to tell us agency workers that we are the problem? Hilarious if not so ludicrous.

    Northamptonshire CC was a prime example of this – between 3 chief execs over a five year period rinsed the council of nearly 3 million in agency fees for their work! Disgusting.

    Pay social workers correctly – treat them right – and you might find there are reducing number of agency roles.

    After a social worker for 6 years I’m glad I’ve made the decision to leave this career – it’s horrendous and affects your own personal life and health way too much – for a perm oh of 30-35k…. Not thanks! 😂

  24. Maxine B July 30, 2021 at 9:01 pm #

    There are permanent staff that do not do a social work role, and get more pay than a qualified SW for doing a quarter of the workload we have.
    Permanent pay nationwide is paltry

  25. Terry Deen August 6, 2021 at 10:09 am #

    Instead of capped pay, how about capped caseloads?! It’s not safe to have 25 to 35 children’s cases on a caseload It’s not safe for children and families and it’s not safe for social workers. I have known many agency social workers leave because of unsafe working and not because they are gettibg paid a few quid more elsewhere.

  26. Frasierfanclub1 August 6, 2021 at 11:20 pm #

    Agency staff are incredibly vulnerable in the event of a malicious referral. Suddenly unemployed and unemployable for 18 months with no pay. A permanent member of staff would at least be suspended on full pay until exonerated. It’s taken me two years to rebuild my professional reputation and I’m hopefully joining my LA on a permanent basis next month and will feel marginally safer for the first time in years. Many LAs have an expectation that staff will work in a less than ethical manner and it is not worth the risk of losing our registration, which is why we get the hell out if we are asked to ignore our professional standards.

  27. Fola August 8, 2021 at 11:14 am #

    Please can we advise ADCS president to rethink her decisions as this may cause adverse effects on local authorities. I am sure she has forgotten so soon the problems faced by social workers day in day out and the so much sacrifices we all take to safeguard children whilst neglecting our own families. Please, the way forward is to provide adequate wages, good working conditions,flexibility and just maybe, some locums would change their minds and become permanent staffs.

    As mentioned above, social workers that I know off do not work strictly 9-5 is just in writing, the reality is 8-9pm for most. Please note Ms President, this is not about lack of time management, its because we are all overworked!

  28. Terry Deen August 15, 2021 at 12:51 pm #

    You will struggle to recruit and retain social workers when your caseloads are sky high.