Gwent councils spend over £8m on agency staff

GWENT councils spent more than £8 million on temporary agency staff in the last financial year, we can reveal today.

Figures obtained by the Argus show that while two councils managed to reduce the amount of cash they spent on agency workers between 2008-09 and 2009-10, at another two councils the figure increased.

Local authorities across Gwent use temporary agency staff to fill skills gaps which have arisen in their workforce – such as if they need more social workers, lorry drivers or even grass cutters – and the Welsh Local Government Association says it is often the only way councils can make sure front line services are delivered.

But at Blaenau Gwent Council due to the current financial climate temporary staff are being used to fill vacancies while council bosses hold off from making permanent appointments.

The amount of cash Newport Council spent on agency workers fell from £5.77 million in 2008-09 to £4.62 million in 2009-10.

Torfaen Council’s spend also fell from £1.58 million to £1.20 million.

In Blaenau Gwent Council the figure almost doubled from £618,000 to £1.17 million, while Monmouthshire Council’s agency staffing costs grew slightly from £1.58 million to £1.79 million.

Monmouthshire’s figure included cash for amounts paid by schools for supply teachers.

Caerphilly Council spent £5 million in 2008/09 – but was unable to provide figures for 2009/10 as it is yet to finalise its accounts.

Staff shortages in key areas such as social care could result in worse services to vulnerable people, a spokeswoman for the WLGA said, while supply teachers ensure children’s education is not disrupted and agency refuse lorry drivers make sure bins are collected on time.

All the councils said agency staff were paid for within the budgets determined at the beginning of the financial year.

Caerphilly Council said most of its agency staff are seasonal workers, such as grass cutters or tourism support staff for major events, while Blaenau Gwent also said temporary staff were essential for seasonal work.

But a spokesman for Blaenau Gwent said that, due to the difficult financial climate, it is currently holding back from permanent appointments and is covering some vacancies with temporary staff, allowing it to maintain front line services.

Monmouthshire Council said it uses agency staff to complete one off pieces of work and to cover the absence of current employees.

Newport Council said agency staff are used across all service areas where there is a need, and has a public-private partnership to reduce the costs of recruitment.

Torfaen Council said their agency staff are typically used to deliver front line services when staffing shortages occur.