Surrey social workers want industrial action

SOCIAL care in Surrey has been dealt another blow after a union’s Freedom of Information request revealed more than a quarter of social worker posts in the county are unfilled.

Surrey’s branch of UNISON, which represents public service workers in the county, says child protection teams are at breaking point as they are overworked, and 95 per cent of them have voted for industrial action.

The news comes five months after children’s services in Surrey were rated joint worst in Britain by independent watchdog the Audit Commission.

The Freedom of Information request reveals: [25cf] 26.4 per cent of social work posts are not filled [25cf] 11 per cent of posts are filled by temporary agency workers

For Surrey County Council to fulfill its obligations to vulnerable adults and children, there should be nearly 700 full-time social workers, according to Government guidelines, but at present there are just over 500.

Social workers at the council are fearful of another Baby P-type case and are threatening to take action, with the latest consultative ballot of child protection teams last month returning a 95 per cent vote for industrial action.

The new leader of the council, Andrew Povey, has pledged that social worker recruitment will be high on his agenda.

But Paul Couchman, UNISON branch secretary, said: “These steps are welcome but our members are still working 12 and 14 hour days and over the weekends to make sure they keep children safe and fill out all the paper-work.”

Preparations are now under way for an official industrial action ballot of UNISON members in the frontline social worker teams.

Mr Couchman added: “No one wants a strike, or a work-to-rule, but we are getting to the point where this is our last resort.”

However, Andy Roberts, Surrey County Council’s strategic director for children, schools and families, said: “UNISON has been threatening to take strike action in Surrey for almost a year now.

“Social workers have the demanding task of giving vulnerable children the best possible start in life and the jobs they do are some of the toughest to fill, especially following the interest in the Baby Peter case in Haringey, north London.

“We are not complacent and are doing everything we can to attract and retain even more social workers.”

The council has now started a scheme offering 50 annual bursaries of £1,500 for university social work students and 10 each year for council staff wanting to extend their professional skills.