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Outrage at Wolverhampton Council’s £32M agency staff bill

Wolverhampton Council has sparked outrage after revealing that it has spent £32 million on agency staff in the past five years

The numbers came to light under Freedom of Information injunctions, which revealed the extent of the cash-strapped council’s spending. In 2012/13, agency and temporary staff cost the council a whopping £7,798,791. This shot up to £10,359,840 in the year 2014/15. The total cost came up to £32,785,904 over the past year.

The numbers are even more controversial in the light of the council’s overall cuts of £146m. These meant laying off 1,200 permanent staff and cuts to front line services. The TaxPayer’s Alliance has led the backlash, claiming that public money would be better spent on essential services rather than on employing temporary staff to fill the gaps.

Cuts to permanent jobs in the long-term have resulted in a short-term employment vacuum, encouraging spending on agency staff to satisfy the need for services, which in turn drives spending away from services.

Councillor Andrew Johnson justified the bill, claiming the council’s Yoo Recruit initiative (its own recruitment agency) works to reduce the cost of temporary employees. He noted that while the overall cost of recruiting the workforce was high, when the amount was broken down it was in fact accounted for.

Temporary recruits are brought into to fill positions and provide essential cover, with examples including care staff and administrators. Additionally, short-term hiring provides the council with temporary specialists and contractors where needed.

As with all tax-funded bodies, councils have a duty to be financially responsible and to recruit wisely. While it’s true that Wolverhampton Council faces the challenge of recruiting and deploying hundreds of different types of employees, the question still remains as to whether hiring temporary staff on a regular basis is the answer.

While these employees may fill short-term requirements, they are unlikely to create a secure workforce, particularly in personal services such as care and education. Temporary staff may, in these cases, struggle to provide the same knowledge and quality of service.

At a meeting last year, Councillor Wendy Thompson expressed similar fears, and preached caution when approaching future temporary hires.

However, those seeking to address the balance in Wolverhampton Council’s recruitment activities may not have to wait too long. At the same meeting, Councillor Johnson indicated that he was taking measures to reduce spending on temporary staff.

It may be too little too late for the 1,200 permanent staff who’ve been laid off in the last year, but nonetheless it’s clear that such measures are necessary to keep future recruitment costs down.

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