Woolwich Town Hall
Greenwich council spends over £5m on agency staff

A Greenwich councillor has questioned why “mouthwatering” sums of money are being shelled out on hundreds of temporary workers at Greenwich Council.

The cost of agency staff and consultants has shot up in the last year, sparking concerns over how temporary roles are being filled with workers not on the council’s books.

Agency staff are brought in to fill positions, the majority of which are in children’s and adults services and housing, to make sure the council can deliver services.

In quarter three of last year, the council spent £5.3m on 327 workers – up on the figures from the same period the year before, which show £4.7m being spent on 294 employees.

Greenwich Council graph

At a scrutiny meeting on Tuesday night, Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy said the council should be training local people to fill roles permanently.

He said: “The council’s ethos at the moment is to have a strong and well run council. My question is, is it our policy to run the organisation, in a time of austerity, with a £5m spend on agency staff?

“These are mouthwatering figures. It seems to me we ought to be making practical ways to deal with these issues.

“With the figures around things like social workers, why can’t we grow our own staff within the borough by providing apprenticeships – we can improve capacity rather than employing people travelling into the borough.”

The majority of agency spend comes out of the budget for health and adult services, housing and regeneration, enterprise and skills.

However, the council is also shelling out on 39 administrative staff – jobs councillors said could be going to local people on a full-time basis.

“I have no idea why we are paying people to do our admin work when there are people in the borough more than qualified to do that,” Fahy said.

It comes as new figures show nearly one in four “temporary” workers have been working for the council for over two years.

Councillors were told bosses were trying to recruit more permanent staff for the long-term posts, and would be reviewing directors’ requests to bring in temporary workers.

The cabinet member for finance and resources, Christine Grice, added: “Once we’ve looked at the detail over why particular directorates are employing so many agency staff, that will inform a review of the current workforce strategy.

“Hopefully as we develop the next medium-term financial strategy we will update our workforce plan so we can reduce dependency on agency staff as that would be the sensible thing to do.

“This is about holding the responsible person to account for this spend. The devil is in the detail – there are quite often legitimate details for how this posts are being managed in the way that they are.”

Video of the scrutiny meeting by Darryl Chamberlain.

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Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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