Children's social workers are being offered a "retention allowance" to prevent them from leaving Bradford for higher paid jobs at neighbouring councils.

The payments have been introduced due to the difficulty of recruiting and retaining social workers who deal with some of Bradford's most vulnerable children.

But one Union has criticised the payments, saying it effectively acts as a "bonus" to workers who should instead have their pay increased.

The payments, which could see experienced social workers paid up to an extra £2,400 in January for staying in Bradford for an extended period, were introduced to reduce the need for workers to leave Bradford in pursuit of better paid jobs.

At a meeting of Bradford Council's Children's Services Scrutiny Committee on Wednesday, members were given an update on the caseloads of children's social workers in the district.

They were told that these caseloads had gradually been rising in recent years, and was now 19.6 cases per full time worker. This is up from 17.6 in March 2017.

The national average is 17.8 cases per worker.

There are 182 children's social workers in the district, down from 211 two years ago, and the meeting was told that just 40 per cent were classed as "experienced" - having worked for more than two and a half years.

A report presented to the committee said: "There is a concern that our turnover rate in children’s social care has increased over the last year and that we have lost more of our experienced staff. These staff have left for various reasons but exit interviews show that some neighbouring authorities pay more than Bradford and this has been a factor for Social Workers."

Jim Hopkinson Deputy Director of Children’s Social Care at Bradford Council, said there were around 20 vacancies in the service, some of which were covered by agency staff. He said if these vacancies were filled, the caseloads would fall below the national average.

He said: "There is a slight increase in caseloads. The issue is the last three times I've been before this committee I've said there has been a slight increase, so there is a cumulative impact here."

He said eight additional posts had been created to deal with the caseloads, but these had not yet been filled. He said: "Recruiting and keeping staff can be challenging. There are not enough good children's social workers to go around.

"The issue we have at the moment is that we are in competition with our district neighbours."

He said Bradford was one of the few West Yorkshire local authorities to have not been judged inadequate by Ofsted in recent years. Those that have, including Kirklees, had invested more money in children's social care to try to turn things around, and this has led to staff being paid higher wages than in Bradford.

Mr Hopkinson said the retention allowance would be reviewed after the first year's payment due to staff in January, to see if it made a difference to staff retention.

He told the committee: "Some people may leave after they receive the payment, if that happens we'll have to look at that, but it will narrow the pay gap between workers in Bradford and those in authorities like Kirklees."

Neil Terry from Unite the Union, asked to speak on the issue but was denied. He instead asked why the "bonus" was being adopted instead of a pay rise. Mr Hopkinson added: "My preference would be for a national pay scale for social workers, but I have no confidence that will happen. As it stands we were given a budget and the challenge was to balance that so we could pay our social workers and bring in more social workers. This was the decision that was made."

The committee voted that the Council look at any way pay of social workers could be increased, and to have a further report early in the year to see how successful the retention allowance had proven.

After the meeting, Mr Terry told the Telegraph & Argus: "Bradford pays social workers less than neighbouring authorities and staff there also have lower workloads.

"Shamefully the Council has implemented a scheme there social workers will get paid a bonus. This could create divisions among staff who all work very hard to improve the lives of young people in the Bradford District.

"Unite the Union calls on Bradford Council in the strongest possible terms to reject the idea of a bonus and instead pay the staff correctly for the hard work they do."