Over-stretched Edinburgh Council spends £22.5 million on agency workers

over-stretched council staff are being propped up by the equivalent of more than 600 agency workers – while overtime payments have soared at City Chambers, councillors have been warned.

Tuesday, 21st May 2019, 8:02 pm
A general view of Edinburgh City Council Headquarters in Market Street. Picture: Scott Louden

A report to the city council’s finance and resources committee, to be discussed tomorrow, reveals the cost of employing agency workers increased by £3.7 million in 2018 to £22.5m, while overtime payments have risen by £1.5m to £9.1m.

In their report to councillors, officers admit there was a “need for additional temporary workforce to provide services at key times during the year”.

The added: “The average overtime monthly workforce in 2018 was the equivalent of 274 full-time employees. The 2018 month-on-month overtime spend is consistently higher than that observed in 2017 and 2016, reflecting an increasing reliance on the flexible workforce and overtime working.”

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Almost half of the overtime payments occurred in the council’s place department which includes roads, bin collections and planning.

In the Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership, there were 2,323 equivalent full-time employees at the start of 2018, which dropped by 91 to 2,233 by the end of the year. The reduction has been labelled “alarming” by Conservatives.

Conservative finance spokesman, Cllr Graham Hutchison, said: “The figures highlighted in the report with regard to agency spend and overtime are very concerning.

“With plans to cut 200 posts during this financial year, it is difficult to see this situation improving any time in the near future.

“With health and social care in crisis and funding for third party providers slashed, the drop in the number of full-time staff in the service is alarming and raises serious questions about the council’s ability to meet the needs of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The council spent £22.5m in 2018 to pay agency workers – an average monthly cost of £1.9m.

Officers added: “The average agency monthly workforce in 2018 was the equivalent of 627 full-time employees.”

Green finance spokesman, Cllr Gavin Corbett, said: “As numbers of permanent staff have dropped the cost of agency and overtime have soared by over £5m between them. Particularly surprising has been a fall of almost 100 staff in health and social care, despite rising and outstanding demand. At the same time overtime costs in health and social care have risen by £1.4m.

“So there is a danger that changes in staff numbers, without changing the way services work, is just leading to over-stretched staff, with gaps plugged by agency and overtime.”

A council spokesperson said: “Agency spend is in many cases necessary to ensure statutory service provision can continue to be delivered when council staff are unavailable due to holiday and other absence.

“Spend on agency workers, as with consultants and overtime, is closely monitored by the council to ensure that we get best value for Edinburgh’s taxpayers.

“Overtime is equally about flexibility and this doesn’t always mean people working at enhanced rates of pay.”