£1m-plus overspend on social workers expected at County Council

22/10/2021

Use of agency social workers due to vacancies is a large contributing factor

by Andy Mitchell, Local Democracy Reporter

Reliance on agency staff is set to force Oxfordshire County Council more than £1million over budget for children’s social workers this financial year – and the problem could get worse.

The county’s Business Management and Monitoring Report shows the authority expects to go approximately £700,000 over budget for the use of agency social workers alone and “it is anticipated there will be an overspend within the front-line social care teams of at least £1.1m this year”.

The report continues: “Work is ongoing to address the vacancies over the medium term, which may reduce pressure in future years if successful, but there remains a significant risk this pressure could significantly increase further this year.

“Additional work is underway to look at solutions over the longer term but it is currently anticipated that a pressure will continue into (the financial year) 2022-23.”

A Memorandum of Cooperation, a voluntary agreement entered into by Oxfordshire County Council and many authorities across the south-east, set out to rationalise costs and reduce instability caused by high staff turnover amid widespread problems with recruitment and retainment.

Councillor David Bartholomew (Con, Sonning Common) said the council’s report “indicates this agreement seems to have collapsed” and asked: “Are we now saying that it is back to every council for itself and rates will spiral upwards?”

Cabinet member for children, education and young people’s services Councillor Liz Brighouse (Lab, Churchill & Lye Valley) acknowledged the pact “simply wasn’t working” and said her department had been pulling out all the stops.

“Everyone has been aware of the amazing demand in terms of our services,” said Cllr Brighouse.

“Those children we care for need to have social workers in place so we can support them properly.

“It is quite clear from the report, I had thought, that while we were unable to continue to operate the co-operation we had across the region, because it simply wasn’t working, the department has worked very hard to find ways to see how we can train our own social care staff and have the staff we need employed us, and to try to do that within the budgets we have because at the moment we are having to recruit very expensive agency staff.”

Cllr Brighouse also commented on a similar situation with school transport drivers.

“There has always been a real issue with school transport across the county,” she said.

“There have been additional issues recently in terms of the overall need to employ more drivers for our school transport service. The drivers are like hen’s teeth, everyone wants them.

“The home-to-school transport is something we are going to be looking at very carefully in the coming months because there has not been a review for many years. Hopefully that will result in some reduction in cost.”


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