Last week the Evening Standard reprinted some figures from the GMB union that showed how much London councils were spending on agency staff.
Ealing was listed at the top of the table spending £44.3 million. The GMB made Freedom of Information requests to obtain this information. I understand that Ealing managed to cock up their response and that the real figure is £28.6 million. This would still leave us as the 6th most prolific user of agency staff.
This was a weakness recognised by the previous Labour administration and is one that the current Conservative administration will seek to remedy. Agency staff do have a useful role to play though and the GMB is being plain silly in the way it presents this issue as “privatisation”. Does the GMB really think that if there is no social worker available then clients should be ignored until the Council gets around to hiring a new staff member. No, the Council should get a temp in.
I bumped into the Chief Executive of Lambeth council on Saturday coming home from an ALG event. He was new to his job having previously worked as a Chief Executive in the Midlands. We were chatting about the challenges of local government and his first point was “the thinness of the local labour market”. In other words you can’t get good people. I told him that in Ealing many of our services were dependent on new migrants. Many council jobs are not very sexy. Being a care worker, a social worker, a teacher, etc is hard grind. We need more local people to get back into the job market and the hard grind. Then we can reduce our dependence on agency staff and deliver better services. Some part of the solution is training and child care. A big part would be reducing the tax burden on the low paid, see article. Over to you Gordon.