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Outrage at Dorset County Council's £11,000 a day agency bill

Outrage at Dorset County Council's £11,000 a day agency bill

Outrage at Dorset County Council's £11,000 a day agency bill

Cllr Janet Dover

Barry Thompson

First published in News
Last updated
Dorset Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

MORE THAN £11,000 a day has been spent on agency staff and consultants by Dorset County Council.

Figures which were handed to the audit and scrutiny committee show that the authority racked up a bill of more than £1million between October and December last year.

And nearly half of that – a total of £531,744 – was spent by the Dorset Waste Partnership.

Calculating the number of days within this period divided by the total amount, it means agency staff cost an estimated £11,709 a day.

The figures come to light as the council ploughs on with its Forward Together programme – a bid to cut £48m over the next three years.

In January, the Echo revealed that around 200 staff had already been made redundant.

But the overall reduction in posts has been nearly 500 with removing vacant posts and redeploying staff.

The Non-directly Employed Contract Workforce report for Quarter Three says that excluding the DWP cost, ‘expenditure on agency and consultancy staff has been stabilised at a significantly lower level than the previous three years’.

But critics say the ‘enormous amount’ of money being spent still isn’t good enough.

And living wage campaigners say if the council raised the income of its lowest paid workers, it would boost morale causing less sick time.

More than 70 per cent of the agency orders were made for unqualified social and healthcare staff.

But these only took up the second lowest chunk of the total, coming in at £79,416.

The most money was spent on admin and clerical roles, at a total cost of £160,384.95.

Cllr Janet Dover, Lib Dem leader, said: “Residents have just got their council tax bills – it’s gone up and they’re going to be looking for more value for money.

“Money is scarce and they want to make sure the county council is spending their money wisely.

“Agency staff are very expensive.

“We have to be asking why they are needed and make the council aware the public is looking.”

She said the council could be doing more to use the ‘expertise’ of its employees to cover consultancy work internally.

Barry Thompson from the Dorchester Labour Party said: “With all of the extra money they are paying on agency staff they should be looking at employing people on a proper wage.

“If you’re on a low wage, your morale is low and so you might call in sick.

“If those paid under the living wage were paid better, they’d have more incentive.”

The report says spending is in line with the previous quarter but ‘above average for the previous year, largely because of the additional requirements of the Dorset Waste Partnership (DWP) during implementation and roll out of the recycle for Dorset service’.

And although this spending is starting to reduce, ‘the increase in the need for front-line adult social worker assignments and hours reported last quarter is continuing’.

A spokesman for the Dorset Waste Partnership (DWP) said: “The vast proportion of agency staff costs for the DWP during October to December were for operational staff working on collecting waste and cleaning streets.

“However, the roll out of the new recycle for Dorset service also required some additional and temporary admin support.

“Operational agency costs should not be seen as additional to the cost of paying DWP staff.

“They are part of the overall staff bill for collecting waste and cleaning streets.

“Since December, however, the DWP has been employing operational staff in permanent positions as part of a move to reducing its use of agency workers.

“While this will have the effect of reducing agency costs, the work must still be done and the cost of DWP permanent staff will increase proportionately “The DWP is working hard to ensure its services are as efficient and effective as possible.”

Staff spend under review says council finance head

THE council’s head of corporate finance told councillors on the audit and scrutiny committee that the agency spend is ‘under review’.

Peter Illsley said: “Permanent appointments are being made now the new service is being established.

“This is really about giving visibility to the expenditure that we are incurring apart from the employed workforce.”

Chairman Trevor Jones said the council now has a ‘grip’ of the situation after new control measures were introduced.

He said: “The figures were misleading but caused a panic.

“As a result, new control procedures were introduced before new consultants were hired.

“What’s been revealed as a result of these figures is that we have now got a grip of it.”

Freelancer paid more than chief executive

DORSET County Council vowed to look at its agency spend in 2012 after an Echo investigation revealed one temporary worker earned more than the chief executive.

We found that 10 temporary workers had cost almost £1.3m in three years.

Last June, fresh figures showed that the bill for agency, consultancy and freelancers was £5m in 2012-2013 – working out at £95,961 a week, or £408,000 a month.

Union’s anger over ‘money wasted’

THE SPEND has been condemned as ‘money wasted’ by a council workers’ union representative. Pamela Jeffries of Unison, pictured, said there are still ‘far too many’ workers on zero hours contracts which makes them more likely to take time off sick, leading to a bigger agency spend.

She added: “Money wasted on agency staff could be channelled into having staff that are properly trained.

“There have been cutbacks, but if you cut back too far you cause the problems that mean you have to use agency staff.

“People go off sick and there’s no one to cover. Employees are having to overwork as it is.

“There will always be a need for short-term cover but staff are less likely to go off sick if they are treated sufficiently.

“This is not good enough. Money spent on agency staff is money wasted.”

THE KEY FACTS

  • In six months (June to December), 668 orders for unqualified health and social care agency workers were made by the council.
  • In Quarter 3, nearly 60 per cent of total orders for agency were made because of staff on short-term sick leave. This had increased by nine per cent on Quarter 2 n An additional £8,168 was spent on agency workers’ expenses from October to December.
  • In December, there were 19 agency workers who had been contracted to the council for more than two years.

SPEND BY DEPARTMENT

  • Dorset Waste Partnership - £531, 744.79
  • Environment - £237,310.36
  • Adult and Community  - £192,380.49
  • Children’s Services - £59,014.20
  • Corporate Resources - £56,813.43

THE top spend was for a project engineer in the environment sector. The set pay rate for this job was £18.48 per hour. The council ended up paying £28.50 – an extra £10.02 an hour. It cost £14,741.94 from October to December. This post was open from December 2011 to March 2, 2014.

Other high spends October-December

  • Children’s Services; social worker – £14,222.48 (£27 per hour)
  • Environment; Architect – £13,681.69 (£19 per hour)
  • Environment; Architectural technician – £13,510.55 (£25.62 per hour)
  • Children’s Services; Social worker – £13,501.41 (£30 per hour)
  • Environment; Senior/ principal engineer – £12,636.05 (£24.40 per hour)

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