Agency staff cost council �900,000 a year

New administration at North Devon Council prepares to get tough on the temporary staffing wage bill

NORTH Devon Council chiefs have vowed to keep a tight rein on the use of agency staff in a bid to tackle an annual wage bill of almost �900,000.

In a decision taken by the Leader, Councillor Brian Greenslade and deputy leader Cllr Rodney Cann, the council will not take on any more agency staff until either has given written permission.

The works and recycling service is responsible for �662,531 of the agency bill and this will be the responsibility of Mr Cann as lead member for waste and recycling, while Mr Greenslade will scrutinise employment of agency staff for the rest of the council.

“For operational and logistical purposes, a number of agency workers are used,” said Mr Greenslade.

“However, since taking control in May, I have been amazed at the council’s spending on agency workers, as well as the higher than average level of absenteeism.

“The new administration is tackling both these issues as a matter of urgency. We have taken steps to control further recruitment of agency workers and are investigating the situation to reduce over dependence on them.

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“I am really surprised the previous administration let the situation get so out of control.”

Mr Cann added: “We have inherited an unacceptable situation and have taken urgent action to control levels of agency workers. It’s a damning indictment of the previous administration and we are baffled as to how the situation was allowed to grow.”

A report on staffing levels for the works and recycling service, written in September, said the number of full time employees on the domestic refuse service totalled 46, with a minimum of 50 required to run the service.

The figures for domestic recycling were even wider, with 35 full time staff but 60 needed to operate the service.

Across the whole service it said a total of 35 agency workers were employed to meet the minimum service requirements of 145 staff.

“I have to scratch my head as I don’t see why employing agency staff is better value than our own,” said Mr Greenslade.

“Absenteeism at the council is above average and we are going to look at why that is. I can assure you that the new administration is going to very seriously attempt to tighten up the ship.”

But Cllr Des Brailey said he did not understand why the decision was so “urgent” and could not wait until the council executive meeting yesterday (Tuesday.)

“If an urgent decision is taken it is extant immediately and cannot be questioned,” he said, “no debate takes place and the decision is not discussed or reviewed.

“In my view the decision was taken to stop such debate and was taken to avoid this process. The management no longer have the ability to react without political interference.

“To overcome the dependence on such workers would require an increase in staff levels which is very costly and would not remove the requirement to hire personnel when such things as sickness and holidays occurred. I am aware the chief executive was fully cognisant with the costs of agency workers - one reasons was the rise in absenteeism, which was being addressed.”

Of the latest decision, he said: “It’s not what they have done, it’s how they did it. I have a problem with them misusing their position as councillors, in my view.

“They are not allowing for debate and if they continue with this they might as well do away with the executive and make all decisions ‘urgent.’”

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