Hillingdon spends £1.4m on social worker crisis
A SOCIAL worker recruitment crisis has led to Hillingdon Council spending £1.4 million on employing 15 agency staff over the past two years.
The local authority said that it has made huge strides in attempting to cut down the number of agency staff on its books, hiring an increased number of employees full-time.
Nine of the 15 staff see their contracts run out at the end of December, while the remaining six’s contracts are scheduled to finish next March.
Agency staff hired include a team manager, an asylum support worker, mental health workers, and children in need social workers.
Paul Whaymond, deputy director of finance, said: “At a time when many councils are closing services, Hillingdon Council is not only delivering efficiencies, it is also maintaining and enhancing services such as libraries, leisure centres, facilities for children and young people and the environment, whilst maintaining weekly bin collections and freezing council tax.
“By highlighting one small element of what the council is spending money on, the Gazette is not giving residents a fair or accurate picture.
“These agency staff are largely covering existing posts delivering key front line services to residents. “The council’s agency spend is funded from existing staffing budgets so we are not spending extra money on staff. Indeed in some cases, by using temporary staff we are in fact saving money.
“In the current financial year, by using tight expenditure controls, we have reduced our spend on agency staff by 50 per cent.”
The struggle to hire social workers permanently has been blamed by experts on the perceived high workloads in the industry and criticism of the profession in the wake of the Baby P case in 2008 and has been a problem acknowledged by the Local Government Association.
Hillingdon joined as one of eight London boroughs to form the West London Social Work Project last year, to promote the education and career paths of social workers in order to help address staffing issues.
Hillingdon’s adult and social care department has come under the national media spotlight in the past year, when it was forced to apologise after losing a High Court ruling regarding its detention of autistic 21-year-old Steven Neary.
An agency social worker was also suspended for 12 months for driving using a mobile phone with a child in his care in his car, and sending inappropriate messages for the child’s mother.
Despite these negative news stories the department was rated as ‘good’ for safeguarding and Looked After Children by OfSTED in a 2010 inspection.
The figure of £1.4 million is dwarfed by the spending of some other council’s on agency staff, with South Gloucestershire Council spending £1.5 million in just three months of this year, and Gwent Council in Wales laying out £8 million in one year.