HIRING social care workers on temporary contracts cost the council more than £1.4 million last year.

An investigation found Bracknell Forest Council (BFC) had 24 social workers working in children’s services and adults’ services as of May 2019.

The authority paid £1.44 million to hire agency workers in the 2018-2019 financial year.

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Nikki Edwards, Executive Director, People Directorate, at Bracknell Forest Council, said: “Our agency work spend figure is reflective of the duty of care we commit to providing to residents. Where vacancies become available in our established posts or additional work is required, we enlist the help of agency workers to provide a continuity of service.

“Our aim is to reduce any unnecessary spend and work is already underway to recruit permanent staff to vacancies, as well as to improve the way we attract applicants, in particular, for hard to fill and critical posts.”

Neighbouring authority Slough Borough Council (SBC) paid out £1.05 million for agency social workers in the same time period.

However, SBC does not pay for temporary children’s social workers as a separate trust looks after this provision.

In January, councillors raised concerns about BFC’s ability to retain children’s social workers after directors claimed the authority could not compete with other Berkshire councils and trusts in terms of offering greater salaries to care staff.

Speaking at a meeting at the start of the year, Sonia Johnson, Assistant Director of Children’s Social Care at BFC, said: “One of the challenges we are going to face is that the trusts in Slough and Reading are not capping what they pay their social workers.”

At the same meeting, councillor Dr Gareth Barnard, executive member for children, young people and learning, said social workers had better opportunities at BFC:

He said: “We have done a lot over the years to improve the working conditions and improve the working environment.

“We take students and new social workers here as it gives us the opportunity to mould workers so that they want to stay here.

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“If social workers want to work in a well-run, well-resourced children’s services, there is no better place than Bracknell Forest.”