Cash-strapped Birmingham City Council is paying temporary agency staff up to £360 per day to cover key positions.
The Birmingham Post has obtained figures which show that over the last two financial years, the council has forked out £67 million on agency workers.
The details, revealed under the Freedom of Information Act, show some very senior positions at the council, in areas including child safety, are being filled by non council staff.
The top ten agency earners at the council are raking in between £294 – £359 per day. Some have been in their posts for more than a year, and include a team manager for childrens and families services, social project workers and review officers.
Unions have hit out at the reliance on agency staff at a time when many council workers are themselves being made redundant to cut costs.
The city council last month said it must make £600 million of savings by 2017 – £200 million more than originally thought.
In the most highly paid agency staff role, the city council’s under-performing children’s social services department has been paying a manager £360 per day on a temporary contract which began more than a year ago.
The unnamed team manager, who was hired in September 2011, is the highest paid of more than 1,000 agency workers which are on course to cost the city council between £25 million and £30 million this year.
This salary, which costs the council about £90,000 per annum, put the individual in the same pay bracket as assistant directors, the second tier of council officials.
All of the ten highest paid agency staff currently used by the city council have been hired by the Children’s Services department which has been under a government notice to improve for four years running.
The second highest paid is project worker which cost the council £326 per day since December last year, and various senior social workers are on figures around £300 per day.
The city council says that there are a number of senior temporary appointments while the department is undergoing major change in the light of a string of damaging Ofsted inspection reports and a government notice to improve.
The latest figures show that the council as a whole spent £13.2 million on agency staff between April and September this year – and this could rise as winter absences frequently increase the bill.
In 2010/11 the annual spend was £38.2 million and last financial year it was £28.8 million following a series of initiatives to reduce costs.
At the same time thousands of council staff have been made redundant and others are this month seeing their pay reduced, prompting criticism from union leaders.
Steve Foster, of Unite and chairman of the council’s joint-union committee, said the dependency on high-paid agency staff is a disgrace at a time when many lower paid staff are losing money due to the withdrawal of shift allowances. He said: “We have more agency staff than regular staff in some areas like fleet and waste management.
“We have low paid staff, on the bottom three grades, losing pay this month with the withdrawal of shift allowances. Some losing 30 per cent and they are on low incomes. Losing £500 per month is no joke when you have a mortgage to pay and family to look after. When the council is paying consultants and agency staff more than £350 per day it is a disgrace.
“They should be supporting their own staff and improving their terms and conditions rather than filling the pockets of agency workers.”
The council insists it has made concerted efforts to reduce the dependency on agency staff, including making ensuring all agencies deliver prompt information on hours worked and all appointments are approved and monitored by senior human resources department managers.
Council deputy leader Ian Ward said that there is a special case in children’s social care.
Coun Ward (Lab, Shard End) said: “There’s some change management going on in children’s social care at the moment given the Ofsted inspection and notice to improve and we have agency workers coming in to work on that.”
Children’s services has previously reported a problem with hiring social workers and admitted that a staffer can leave on Friday and, knowing the department is over-stretched, return on a Monday on higher pay through an agency. In September there were 127 agency staff employed by the department.
Steps being taken to address this include a social training academy at the University of Birmingham producing the next generation of staff.
Coun Ward said that while there will always be a need for temporary cover, efforts to cut the bill and move those at risk of redundancy into jobs covered by agency staff are being stepped up.
He said: “We are concerned that after initial reductions in spending the totals have been moving in the wrong direction. I am monitoring the spend on agency staff on a month by month basis and working with department heads to bring this down.
"There is pressure to reduce to this spending and it is a matter of how quickly this can be done.”
Another major area of concern has been fleet and waste management, where an army of 578 agency staff are working alongside regular dustmen.
In this case due to a lengthy restructuring and protracted negotiations with unions a majority of staff have been kept on temporary contracts for several years now.
Managers also say that due to the historically high pay rates enjoyed by dustmen, it costs 30 per cent less to use agency workers to empty the bins.
Coun Ward added: “Having resolved the issue of enhanced pay in fleet and waste management we would expect to see the numbers of agency staff reducing in the weeks and months ahead.”
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