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It has been revealed that Southend Council spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on temporary staff in a single month due in part to a national shortage of social workers.
Details of the council’s costly agency bill have been revealed in documents which show the authority paid out a total of £368,527 in October, with bills for some temporary staff members reaching almost £3,000.
Many of the agency workers were employed in children’s services, which has come under significant strain due to the difficulty in recruitment and the growing number of children living in care.
A November report shows the number of looked after children has shot up by more than 100 in the past four years and the department’s budget has spiralled, putting the council in line to overspend by £4.3million by the end of March 2020.
Adult social care has also received many of the agency workers, along with housing and environmental services.
Spending on agency staff has been consistently high throughout the year and peaked in August when the council recorded a spend of £580,143.
A council spokesperson said: “As a large organisation delivering hundreds of services, it is inevitable that we need to use agency staff for periods where there is a necessity to do so.
“Whilst we work hard to keep agency staff to a minimum and they form a low percentage of our overall workforce, many are social workers or frontline staff looking after vulnerable people for example and carry out a vital role within the local community.
“We also often need to fill a position at short notice and that would involve the use of agency staff.
“This can be for a range of reasons including during periods of recruitment when we need to ensure a post is filled temporarily, or to ensure that vital frontline services such as adult social care or children’s services are delivered to residents during spells of sickness or maternity leave for example.”
“There is a national shortage of experienced social workers, higher costs associated with agency social workers due to supply and demand, and increased demand on local authorities in this area which adds challenges to recruitment.
“However, we work as part of the eastern region to agree fixed pay rates for agency social workers to help manage this cost. This has reduced spend and we continue to work to minimise the use of agency workers.
“This includes investing in new staff. We have recently increased our intake of newly qualified social workers by 50 per cent and are putting in place measures to improve retention too.”