The cost of hiring agency staff to cover vacancies left by “burnt out” adult and child social workers in Trafford has risen by a staggering 43.5 per cent to nearly £6.2million. Figures for the 2021/2022 year show the cost of hiring agency staff – who get paid more than local authority social workers – went up by almost £1.9million.
That compares to the previous year’s spend of £4.3million agency staff and consultants, councilors on Trafford’s Employment Committee were told. Corporate director of adult social services and wellbeing Diane Eaton described the period as “another extremely challenging year”.
The committee heard how the authority is fighting a losing battle retaining existing staff amid growing demand across the country. This is as stressed out local authority social workers opt for higher pay, less responsibility and more flexible hours in the private sector.
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Councillor David Acton said: “It’s the care area that are the main issues with our budgets and it’s very difficult for us to compete [with agencies]. “We’ve been trying to tackle this for as long as I can remember. There’s growing demand right across the country. I despair, really.”
Chair of the committee, Coun Joanne Bennett, agreed saying: “I think despair is the right word. The need for care is growing as people get poorer and desperate they are going to need it even more.
“We can’t say that it’s too much for us and we’re not doing this anymore. We really are between a rock and a hard place.” And she said she “totally understood” that in areas like child protection staff are having a “really hard time” and “they don’t want to do it anymore.”
However, Coun Mike Freeman laid the blame squarely at the door of the previous Trafford council administration for cutting £15million from the children’s services budget in 2015. “When you do that you are going to have great difficulty coming back from it,” he said . “What the previous administration did was cut to the bone.”
The difficulty the council has in recruiting and retaining staff was underlined at the same committee meeting which had earlier agreed to give adult social workers a pay boost in a bid to stem the exodus. The increase will cost the authority nearly £230,000 and will lift Trafford from sixth to third in the Greater Manchester league table of pay for such social workers.
Currently, 19 of the 72.6 posts remain unfilled, interim strategic lead for adult social care, Anne-Marie Mohieddia said in a report. She wrote: “Recruitment of qualified social workers is a difficulty faced in adult social care and a theme which is also mirrored across Greater Manchester and nationally.
“Adult social care is facing significant challenges. While are teams working hard to recruit permanent staff, these efforts have been arduous with concerns relating to the number and caliber of applicants; continually leaving substantial vacancies across the service.”
She went on: “Vacancies continue to be advertised with some on numerous occasions (four-plus attempts) with applicants who do not meet criteria for shortlisting or no applicants at all.” The committee has agreed “market supplement payments” to adult social workers at levels two and three and to its 15.4 senior practitioners.
Social workers at level two will see their pay rise from £31,323 to £33,782, a supplement of £872; level threes will get their pay increased from £35,927 to £37,890, a rise of £2,145. Meanwhile, senior practitioners will get a market supplement of £996 taking their salaries from £36,922 to £37,918.
But Coun Bennett said: “It’s not just pay [that’s the issue] it’s the workload and support [or lack of it] that you get from your manager. Social workers are burned out. The number of people applying to be social workers has decreased year on year, particularly in children’s services. There needs to be more done to encourage people into the profession.”
The authority is now to undertake a recruitment campaign using social media, and a “refer a friend” friend scheme where individuals in post recommend other people qualified to fill vacancies. Ms Mohieddin said that discussions have taken place with trade union representatives who have supported the proposal.
The changes will come into effect next month (July).
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