USING expensive agency staff to fill vacancies in Children’s Services will have cost Bradford Council over £112m over the past six years – local Conservatives have claimed.

One opposition councillor says the figure shows that Labour mismanagement on Bradford Council – and not Government cuts - is behind the authority’s current financial woes.

But Council bosses have accused the Tories of “clutching at straws” to persuade people the problem is not one being felt by Councils across the country.

The use of agency staff in Bradford’s Children’s Services has spiralled in recent years.

In 2018/19 the Council spent £4.3m on Children’s Services agency staff.

The spend for the 2023/24 financial year is expected to be £33m.

Agency staff are recruited if the Council is not able to provide adequate staffing with its own employees.

Agency staff cost much more than permanent staff, and the cost has been one of the major factors in Bradford Council’s ever-rising budget overspend in recent years.

A recent report to Bradford Council’s Executive showed that in December there were 253 agency social workers employed by the Council.

And members of the Council’s Children’s Scrutiny Committee were told on Wednesday that some Council staff are leaving to become agency workers.

Although the Bradford Children’s and Families Trust, which took over Children’s Services from Bradford Council in April, hoped to reduce reliance on agency staff, the last financial report to the Executive said: “agency staff numbers have continued to see a small rise, rather than fall as planned.”

It does add that recruitment is underway to employ more permanent staff.

Bradford Council is currently awaiting a Government decision as to whether it will receive financial support to balance its budget.

If it does not the Authority will likely have to declare bankruptcy.

Councillor Mike Pollard, Conservative Spokesman for Finance and Projects, believes the reliance on agency staff has played a huge role in the current budget black hole. He said: “The residents of Bradford District should be excused for not being sure who is at fault for this debacle, which will at the end of the day see them paying much more council tax, for much reduced services.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Councillor Mike PollardCouncillor Mike Pollard (Image: newsquest)

“Residents have been barraged with conflicting explanations, with Conservative Councillors blaming the Labour Council and the Labour Council blaming the Conservative Government, both sides sometimes using complex financial arguments, which have resulted in much wood being hidden amongst the trees.

“To my mind, one of the best indicators of where fault lies is the Council’s use of agency staff in Children’s Services.

“In 2017 the Council underwent a Joint Targeted Area Inspection, led by Ofsted, with the Council’s Children’s Services being viewed, for the most part, positively at that time.

“In the same year, the then Director of Children’s Services asked for a relatively small £1.4m to stabilise the workforce, as staff were being lost to neighbouring councils paying £5,000 to £7,000 more per year.

“When the money didn’t come, the department haemorrhaged staff and its annual spend on agency staff increased year on year from £4.3m in 2018/19 to an estimated £30m in 2023/24.

“The cumulative additional spend on agency staff above 2018/19 levels, since that time has been over £80m. Including the current financial year estimate, a total of £112m has been spent on agency Children’s Services staff over the last six years.

“To put that into perspective, the entire annual budget for Children’s Social Services was £83m in 2016/17.

“The average Council’s Children’s Services Department workforce includes 18 per cent to 19 per cent of people who are employed by an agency, whereas in Bradford it has been as high as 47 per cent.

“The Leader of the Council claims that the Council’s woes are in a large part because staffing agencies charge too much for workers, which they do, but it is clearly fact that Bradford Council’s problem is that they have had to rely too heavily on them, because she wouldn’t agree to pay enough for much cheaper and more committed, Council employed Children’s Social Workers.

Councillor Pollard concluded, “The person with ultimate responsibility for the collapse of the Council, is the Leader of the Council.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Councillor Susan HinchcliffeCouncillor Susan Hinchcliffe

Leader of the Council Susan Hinchcliffe said: “The Bradford Conservative Group is clutching at straws.

“There is a national crisis in funding for Children’s Social Care and this is not just happening in Bradford. Conservative leaders as well as Labour leaders nationally are calling for action.

“The government’s own independent review highlighted these issues when it called for a ‘radical reset’ and £2.6 billion of funding nationally. There is a growing cross-party consensus on the escalating national crisis in social care.”