Anger as council’s agency worker bill hits £20m

The council has come under fire over the agency staff wage bill. Picture: Michael Hughes
The council has come under fire over the agency staff wage bill. Picture: Michael Hughes
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THE sum forked out for agency workers delivering essential public services across the Capital has jumped to more than £20 million – an increase of more than a third over five years.

Confirmation of the soaring temp bill came as it emerged a host of problems have plagued recruiters in their bid to ensure council departments are fully staffed.

That’s a lot of money – whatever happened to austerity?”

Eben Wilson

Workers remaining in post for longer than intended and without review, a lack of “control” over how personnel are being brought in and significant expenditure on staff from agencies other than contracted suppliers Adecco and ASA have all contributed to the ballooning wage bill.

Fee figures show the full amount forked out for agency services was £20.3m in 2013-14 – up from just under £15m in 2009-10.

With the council’s permanent headcount also heading upwards, critics today attacked rising fees as wasteful and said they were difficult to justify when the city is bidding to save £67m over the next three years.

Eben Wilson, director of Taxpayer Scotland, said: “That’s a lot of money – whatever happened to austerity?

“We are told again and again that there are massive cuts faced by local authorities and here we have evidence of additional expenditure on a very large number of agency staff hours.

“What on earth are [the council] thinking of? Taxpayers are funding hidden additional work that seems to be using expensive labour, certainly in cash terms.”

He added: “All of the money is being paid by taxpayers who probably earn less than the agency staff. This is no way to create equality.”

John Stevenson, of the Unison City of Edinburgh branch, said: “In general terms, agency staff are more expensive because you’re not only paying a wage, you’re paying a fee.

“[The fee rise] is symptomatic of constant upheaval in the council – people not able to get on with the job they’re paid to do because of reorganisation.”

Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green finance spokesman, said core jobs should be performed “within” the council.

He said: “The really alarming thing is the way agency costs seem to have crept up without there being an overview of what was happening.

“Audit Scotland has criticised the council for not having effective workplace controls and last week the finance committee signed off on getting these controls in place. It’s clear how pressing that task is.”

City leaders said the issue of rising agency fees was being dealt with as part of a root-and-branch overhaul of council services.

Cllr Alasdair Rankin, finance leader, said: “This is one of many areas where we are offering more support to managers to help to ensure that staffing levels are always appropriate to business needs.”