Scrapped car allowance is impacting on social worker performance

A social worker has described how the axing of car allowances by South Lanarkshire Council is impacting on the ability of frontline workers to carry out essential aspects of their job.

South Lanarkshire’s decision to replace car allowances with a pool car system is causing stress and delays, the social worker told BASW. Under the scheme, social workers and other council employees who were previously entitled to an annual £500 car allowance and 40p mileage are now expected to book cars 48 hours in advance instead when they need to travel.

The female social worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are working with people who have life and limb crises and they don’t work to 48 hours’ notice. It’s really stressful, especially when you can’t get a car and you have to ring a service to say you can’t get out to see them. The inference is that we’re going to save the money problems of the country just because we’re not using our cars.

“It is stressful because so much planning is involved in getting a car. I’ve had to cancel meetings with service users because I can’t get a car. There’s also an issue with anonymity. The cars have South Lanarkshire stickers on the window so if you visit a service user their neighbours will know and people don’t always want that. I’d also never have a car overnight because quite a few service users live near me.

“It’s a burden. This isn’t the job I spent three years of my life studying for.”

A South Lanarkshire spokesperson said the council was reviewing the pool car system and had identified savings of £1m.

“Where a pool car is unavailable employees can use their own vehicle and claim 45p per mile; they can also choose to use their own car where it is cheaper to do so. Nobody should be paying for petrol out of their own pocket. Emergency vehicles are available in key locations to respond to short notice requirements.”

Ruth Stark, manager of the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) described scrapping the car allowance as an “unhelpful and unwelcome” step. She added: “This is an example of where SASW and Unison can work together to help address the issues to try and make sure managers look holistically at reducing costs – wasting skilled workers time may be more costly than providing an a essential tool for the job.”

Unison said the council policy, which was introduced in April as one of a number of measures designed to help the local authority make savings £26m, was affecting service delivery.

Branch secretary Stephen Smellie said: “We have examples of people not being able to meet clients on time and meetings being cancelled because workers cannot get cars. It’s not been unusual for all the cars to be booked up and there have been some abuses where people have booked a car for a week in case they need one and then not used it.

“It also takes extra time to book the car, collect it and return it. It is generally inconvenient,” he added.