Posted: Thu 29th Jun 2023

Wrexham Council spends £9m on social care agency workers amid recruitment issues

news.wales / newyddion.cymru
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Jun 29th, 2023

The difficulty in recruiting social care staff has contributed heavily to Wrexham Council spending almost £9 million on agency workers in the last financial year. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

A workforce monitoring report will go to the authority’s customers, performance, resources and governance scrutiny committee this week which breaks down where money has been spent on agency workers. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

From April 1, 2022, to March 31 this year the council spent £8,809,824 on agency staff, an increase of 29.7 per cent on the previous year. The average monthly spend on agency staff was £734,152. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report states that departments had budgeted for agency spending. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

It says: “Agency that is used to cover vacant posts, will have a budget allocated within the service, these figures need to be offset against agency costs.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Social care accounts for the biggest chunk of the spend – just more than £7.2m – mainly due to struggles with recruitment. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

There are 57 agency workers covering vacant posts in children’s social care. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

As previously reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, work is being undertaken by the council to recruit staff to the department on a permanent basis. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report states that recruitment efforts in the past have not proved successful but there has been a shift latterly, with agency staff now applying for permanent roles and around 10 appointments made recently. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Speaking about agency spend in this area at a media briefing earlier this month, chief executive Ian Bancroft said: “Agency pay rates are increasing. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“There’s been work done nationally to try to get an agreement that we try and keep agency rates which mean that difference (in pay) isn’t too great. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“We’ve done lots of work in social care around increasing pay rates, growing our own and making sure we retain staff. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“We are beginning to see now in the first three months of this financial year a number of people moving across from agency work into permanent posts. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“We’re starting to see that shift. Maybe people are deciding they would prefer the security, and also the difference between agency and permanent isn’t as great as it was.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The planning department was also hit by recruitment struggles during the period covered by the report, but posts have now been filled which should mean agency spending is reduced in future. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

In the section of the report covering the planning department it states: “Agency staff were appointed in Q1 of 2022 due to high vacancy rates and difficulties with recruitment. Use of agency staff increased in Q3 of 2023 as problems exacerbated. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“However, a sustained recruitment exercise has resulted in a range of permanent posts being filled and all agency staff contracts being cancelled at the end of 2022-23.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

According to the report, agency workers have been used in Public Protection to cover vacant specialist roles which have proved difficult to recruit to, with several posts being readvertised in a way to attract suitable applicants. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report adds: “All posts within Public Protection have now been successfully recruited to and all agency workers are due to finish after completion of contracted term (end of June).” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

There are no plans for the department to use agency workers in 2023/24 or in planning, due to successful recruitment to the majority of vacant posts. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report makes clear that the recruitment issues the council has had are faced by other authorities across Wales. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Another department which has relied on agency workers is Streetscene, to ensure statutory services such as bin collections took place despite staff absences. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report says: “In 2022-23 we used 54 agency workers on an ad-hoc day-to-day basis to fill Streetscene roles as required to ensure crews were manned to safely undertake our daily cycles of work and refuse collections, therefore agency was not used to cover existing vacancies.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

To further reduce agency spend the council is looking to ‘grow its own’ staff and introduce a traineeship scheme, also providing young people with a chance to join the department. This programme is set to start in September. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Recruitment has also been a challenge in the council’s housing department. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The report adds: “The highest proportion of the placements across the department are based within our Property Investment Team working on major programmes of work including the Welsh Housing Quality Standards programme and the void property refurbishments. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“As a department, we have struggled to recruit and retain building surveyors, which, had led to a consistent theme of agency staff working on the empty property refurbishment programme. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“There has also been a similar trend in the external works team, which, when posts have been advertised, the response has been poor. In respect of general fund agency costs (two placements), these positions are to cover vital improvement works across schools.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The scrutiny committee meets on Thursday (June 22) to discuss the report. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

By BBC LDRS ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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