Social worker costs soaring in Suffolk

SPENDING on hiring social workers has soared to nearly �1million in just three years.

A dozen recruitment agencies shared �999,932 of business from Suffolk County Council in 2010/11, compared with �368,249 to five firms in 2008/09.

But the authority said it was going through a fundamental restructuring process aimed at saving money and that agency social workers were only being used on a temporary basis.

Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: 'The national picture is of considerable reductions on spending on agency workers; everybody's been hit by cuts and that's one of the easiest cuts to make.

'There's nothing wrong with agency workers but they are expensive and typically just with them for a short time to cover a particular issue.'

She explained that nationally, social services are struggling to recruit qualified staff, forcing managers to rely on agency staff.

'There's a huge recruitment and retention problem with social workers and there's a shortage of experienced and well-qualified people to do some very complex work.

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'It's because of their workloads and huge frustration with bureaucracy – social workers are required to spend huge amounts of time sitting in front of computers doing mundane box ticking, it's got little to do with the task in hand.'

Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request reveal the county council's spending on agency social workers jumped from �368,249 in 2008/09, to �660,441 in 2009/10 and �999,932 last year.

'Both children and young people services and adult care services have been going through a fundamental restructure to save money,' said a spokesman for Suffolk County Council.

'That means they have not been recruiting into permanent roles until the new structures are in place.

'We still need social workers as they are demand-led services, so qualified agency workers have been used on a temporary basis.

'The costs that were advised in the FoI response include pay and we anticipate it reducing in future years.'

Earlier this year it was revealed the number of children referred to social services had gone up for the fourth consecutive year, rising from 7,484 in 2009/10 to 11,355 in 2010/11.

The hike, which was revealed at a time when there was considerable pressure on children's services to slash money from its budget, was blamed on a number of factors. These included the economic slowdown, increased awareness after the Baby P tragedy and a public more willing to report concerns over children's welfare.

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