City spends £15m on agency workers despite pay freeze

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Agency staff brought in to work at the city council are set to cost taxpayers £15 million this year – despite the authority imposing a pay freeze for its own employees. New figures show the cost of temporary agency staff in the year to the end of March 2012 is expected to increase by 6.9 per cent compared with the total bill last year.

Officials admitted that in a “significant number” of cases the temporary staff are earning more than their council- employed counterparts.

The growing use of temps comes despite many departments at the council imposing a recruitment freeze as part of plans to reduce staff numbers.

Councillor Ricky Henderson, finance spokesman for the Labour group, said: “There may at times be justification for using agency resource and operational reasons that make it critically important to get people in.

“But what these figures might suggest is that in some areas of the council it’s been allowed to become the norm.

“If agency staff are in place for a period of time it suggests that there is a job to be done and there should be a full-time permanent contract. I can see how it could cause tension with permanent staff if they know they are being paid a lower rate than people that are drafted in on a temporary basis.”

The total cost of temps this year is expected to be £15.2m, compared with £14.2m last year. New regulations for agency workers, which came into force in October and entitled them to the same pay and benefits as a council employee once they had worked for 12 weeks, has been partly blamed for the rise.

The biggest bill to a department for agency staff is health and social care, which is projected to spend £5.3m in the current year. Services for communities, which includes roads and housing, will spend £3.9m, while corporate governance, which includes back-office functions, will spend £2.7m.

City development is to spend £2.3m and children and families will face a £947,000 bill.

John Stevenson, president of the Edinburgh branch of public services union Unison, said: “These figures are not surprising because there are so many reorganisations going on in the council that they are reticent to take on permanent staff.

“The problem with some jobs is that the reorganisations have been going on for so long, they can’t fill posts on a permanent basis until it is sorted out.

“In all areas affected by privatisation they have taken a decision to not appoint permanent staff because it is easier to get rid of agency staff if you have to.”

Councillor Phil Wheeler, the city’s finance leader, said: “We know that, as the council goes through major change, there will be a reduction in the future workforce. Using temporary staff in the interim is a cost- effective measure.

“We will obviously continue to monitor these figures closely.”