Following recent budget monitoring reports, and the council taking a very long time to update me on spending on temporary staff I asked about this at the recent Policy Committee. Unfortunately spending has gone up. Crudely adjusting the figures to make comparison easier spending on agency staff and consultants for the last six months was £6.4 million whereas for six months last year it was £5.9 million so it has gone up by £.5 million at a time when the council is trying to reduce this figure.
With care to elderly and vulnerable residents being cut, the voluntary sector set to lose half its council funding and building such as libraries and South Street facing closure this isn’t good news.
The council needs to be attracting more permanent staff to bring costs down, by being a good place to work and offering better pay and conditions in some areas.
Full question and answer below:
COUNCILLOR QUESTION NO. 1
Council Spend on Temporary Staff
In a recent budget monitoring report, overspending on agency and interim staff was identified in the area of Children, Education and Early Help Services.
The risk of overspending has also been identified in recent budget monitoring reports in connection with “high use of agency staffing & consultants” and “high use of agency staffing & consultants due to management turnover and staff recruitment & retention issues in social work”.
I have been awaiting a briefing on this general issue for many months but haven’t heard anything back.
Please can I get some reassurance that spending on agency staff, interim staff, consultants and contractors is not getting out of control?
Please can the council provide me with some figures for how much money the council has spent on each of the above categories of temporary staff so far this year and last year for comparison?
Please can I be informed how much the highest-paid contractor or consultant, who has worked for the council in the last 12 months, is paid per day?
REPLY by Councillor Lovelock (Leader of the Council):
The Council makes use of interim and agency staff for a variety of reasons, predominantly:
· To cover for short term absences
· To provide staffing in critical services where the Council has been unable to recruit sufficient directly employed staff
· To manage short and medium term peaks in workload
· To recruit staff with specific skills that are required for a limited period only
The Council also engages contractors and consultants for a similarly wide range of purposes including specialist technical advice and for short term and one-off projects were the skills and expertise are either rarely required or are not required in volumes that would justify employing staff on an ongoing basis. Consultants are also used extensively in the delivery of large capital programmes such as the Local Strategic Transport Fund or the Schools Expansion Programme.
Programmes of these types require a wide range of professional disciplines and specific expertise which varies depending on the precise nature of the schemes being implemented. A small unitary authority like Reading would not be able to sustain in-house expertise in all of these areas. The volume of this work varies significantly from years to year and the engagement of consultants is a cost effective way of ensuring that the appropriate skills are available when needed.
There is considerable overlap between the categories of staff mentioned and the information that is held is broken down into either Agency Staff or Consultants. Interim staff and contractors are not categorised separately as they appear in both categories, depending on the nature of their contract of engagement.
The spend recorded in the Council’s financial system is shown in the table below:
2015/6 (to October)
The Council has seen an increase over the past year in the use of Agency and Consultancy staff, particularly to provide cover for some vacant higher cost senior management posts.
As has already been published in the Council’s Accounts the highest paid temporary post was that of the interim Director of Children’s and Early Help Services from January 2015.
The Council has a specialist team that focusses on the contract management of the Agency staff and independent consultants and contractors and has recently agreed new approval procedures to govern the decision to appoint, and the negotiation of contracts for these higher cost roles to ensure these costs are minimised and robust contractual arrangements are in place. The specialist team are also working to address the most difficult to fill categories of staff, such as Children’s Social Workers, to reduce the reliance on temporary staff. By its nature, the amount of temporary work required will fluctuate. The total spend and amount of temporary staff is closely monitored and, where necessary, action taken to reduce avoidable requirements in the future.
The arrangements to manage and control expenditure in this area is robust and subject to regular review by senior managers, however, occasionally the spend is not always as low as we would all like, but clearly when managers and front line staff move on we will need to have interim arrangements to ensure continuity of service.