A Council in Yorkshire has been criticised for its handling of finances after it was revealed it went nearly 13 times over its budget for temporary staff.
Hull Council spent more than £3m on agency services in the 2015/16 financial year despite having a budget of just £234,760. And costs were up by nearly £600,000 from the previous year when the Labour-run council was more than five times over budget.
The growth in spending comes despite the authority’s deputy leader, Coun Daren Hale, advocating reducing the council’s reliance on temporary services a year ago. Speaking in November 2015, Coun Hale said increasing financial pressures warranted a change in policy concerning agency workers.
The campaign group, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, criticised the latest figures and claimed they showed improper management of staffing levels.
The organisation’s chief executive, John O’Connell, said: “This is a huge amount of money for the council to have shelled out last year.
“Of course there will be times when the local authorities will need short term cover or temporary assistance but all spending has to represent value for money.”
And Coun Michael Ross, the leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat opposition, added: “The way the Labour administration handles the council’s finances, these figures come as no surprise.
“The council is now in the situation where it is reliant on those from the outside propping it up, in the form of agency staff, consultants and interim managers.”
Temporary workers are used by local authorities to cover long periods of vacancy, such as sickness and maternity leave, across all departments.
A council spokeswoman said agency staff were “essential” for the authority to be able to continue providing key services to the people of Hull.
She added: “The majority of this spend relates to front-line services that look after the elderly, children and young people, and services such as refuse collection.
“Due to the nature of these services the council must ensure that they are always delivered and therefore agency staff are sometimes required. This can also happen in cases of vacant positions or staff sickness.”
Earlier this year, The Yorkshire Post reported that sick leave cost Hull Council £2.5m for nine months. At the time, council cabinet member Phil Webster claimed managers were failing to get a grip on the situation.
He said: “Managers have failed to manage.” There was anecdotal evidence of people taking time off thinking ‘I’m going to have some time off sick or I’ve had no time off sick this year’. “It’s not acceptable; it’s taxpayers’ money.”
Hull Council is not the only local authority to rely heavily on agency staff. Last month, The Yorkshire Post revealed that 13 councils across Yorkshire paid a combined cost of more than £54m on such services last year with some authorities going consistently over their budgets.
Public service union Unison said councils were helpless but to rely on private services in the face of government spending cuts.
A spokesman said: “Councils are being forced into temporary situations without the resources to deal with them. In the current situation workers are leaving councils or being forced to leave through redundancy and so vital services become understaffed.”