Pay cap on agency staff helping children’s services in Sunderland

editorial image

A cap on pay for agency staff is having a positive effect on Sunderland’s struggling children’s services, city bosses have been told.

Since last year (2017), 12 North East authorities agreed to ensure they paid the same rates for temporary staff.

And speaking to Sunderland City councillors this month (Thursday, October 4), Jill Colbert, the council’s director of children’s services, she said it was helping recruit social workers who are ‘here for the long haul’.

“[The cap] resulted in a significant reduction in agency staff working with Together for Children,” she told the Children, Education and Skills Scrutiny Committee.

“In other words, people left for other parts of the country where they could receive a higher agency rate.”

She added: “We have significantly improved on those indicators and as a result I’ve been able to recruit.

“There’s really positive improvements in recruiting permanent staff and as a result we can start to see improvements in performance.

“We’ve got a workforce here for the long haul and who can begin to grip the issues.”

Together for Children (TfC), the organisation formed to run the service for Sunderland City Council following 2015’s damning Ofsted report, had to pay for 167 temps during its first year in business, 2017/18, at a cost of more than £6m.

But according to a report prepared ahead of the meeting, the proportion of temporary staff on the workforce fell to 19.5 per cent in July, down from about 30 per cent in May.

This in turn was down from a high of about 40 per cent in May last year.

Colbert, who is also chief executive of Together for Children, explained to councillors an increase in demand and referrals had followed 2015’s Ofsted inspection, putting even greater pressure on the department.

And the struggles prompted some sympathy from councillors in light of dwindling budgets and increased challenges for the most vulnerable families in the city.

Coun Richard Bell said: “I think we’re staring down the barrel looking at the Universal Credit roll out.

“We were getting increases in numbers because of benefit problems because of the system as it was and it was volatile enough.

“How some of these parents can cope and it’s just going to cause more volatility within family groups.

“It worries me.

“Together for Children is getting caught up too, dealing with these problems is labour intensive, it costs money and money is in short supply.”

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service