Agency staff fees hit £22m at three Sussex councils

Brighton and Hove Council's HQ

Brighton and Hove Council's HQ

First published in News
Last updated

The bill for providing agency cover at the three biggest councils in Sussex has risen to £22 million in the last financial year.

Brighton and Hove City Council, East Sussex County Council and West Sussex County Council have seen their combined bills for temporary staff rise by almost £6 million since 2011/12.

For Brighton and Hove this figure has more than doubled – jumping from £3.4 million in 2011/12 to £7.1 million in the last financial year.

Unions said some agency staff had remained in their “temporary” posts for more than two years and were no longer “cost-effective”.

The rising bill has been partly blamed on staff sickness but also includes temporary staff covering short-term and maternity contracts.

Earlier this month, The Argus revealed that Brighton and Hove City Council staff took an average of 11 sick days each in 2013/14.

West Sussex County Council has also seen a rise in agency costs during the past three financial years – increasing by 10% from 2011/12 to £8.4 million in 2013/14.

In some of the most under-pressure departments, staff are missing the equivalent of one in every 22 work days through sickness.

Staff working in the council’s adult services, children’s services, fire and rescue service and communities commissioning all missed on average at least 3.5% of work days in 2013/14.

East Sussex County Council saw its agency bill drop in the last financial year by £400,000, from £7 million in 2012/13.

The council lost 37,676 full working days through sickness in 2013/14 – an average of nine working days missed by staff.

Mark Turner, GMB branch secretary, said management was turning to agency staff in part because it was easier to “let workers go”.

He said one of the added agency uses may have come out of the recent Cityclean pay dispute and provided cover needed for workers refusing to work extra Saturdays.

He said: “Agency costs have been a constant bugbear of unions and we have constantly questioned the council on its usage of agency staff.”

Leatham Green, East Sussex County Council assistant director for personnel and training, said a large proportion of the working days lost were accounted for by a small number of staff who were absent with serious illnesses.

He said the authority offered staff stress-management programmes, physiotherapy, smoking cessation programmes and self-managed walking, running and swimming groups.

He said: “Not all staff sickness absences result in cover by agency staff and these are limited to essential frontline posts such as care workers or social workers.

“These kind of jobs are often high-stress in nature and also involve high-impact work which is more likely to result in musculoskeletal injuries.”

A West Sussex County Council spokeswoman said: “The county council is committed to reducing levels of sickness absence and is working with managers and headteachers to do so. “ A Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman said the authority was reviewing agency use and cost.

She said: “On average the council spends £5 million a year on agency staff, so in 2011/12 spend was lower than average and in 2013/14 it was higher.

“This was due to a combination of service changes that needed temporary recruitment to make sure services continued to be delivered efficiently and cover for absences in essential posts, which have increased.”

Comments (16)

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7:09am Wed 3 Sep 14

rogerthefish says...

Hi stress? What doing nothing on the seafront non road works, or approving a tower that no one wants !
Hi stress? What doing nothing on the seafront non road works, or approving a tower that no one wants ! rogerthefish
  • Score: 10

7:14am Wed 3 Sep 14

brighton bluenose says...

rogerthefish wrote:
Hi stress? What doing nothing on the seafront non road works, or approving a tower that no one wants !
Zzzzzzzz boring as ever!!
[quote][p][bold]rogerthefish[/bold] wrote: Hi stress? What doing nothing on the seafront non road works, or approving a tower that no one wants ![/p][/quote]Zzzzzzzz boring as ever!! brighton bluenose
  • Score: -11

8:45am Wed 3 Sep 14

Goldenwight says...

Sounds a lot of money, but how would it contrast with the alternatives? Would it be cheaper to throw huge amounts of cash into overtime payments? Would it even be practical?
Sounds a lot of money, but how would it contrast with the alternatives? Would it be cheaper to throw huge amounts of cash into overtime payments? Would it even be practical? Goldenwight
  • Score: -12

8:50am Wed 3 Sep 14

Goldenwight says...

And I am aware of oe woman working for anLA who spent 8 YEARS on 3 month rolling contracts. It was only when she resigned (from a job she loved, because she wanted some security) that she was offered a permanent position.
And I am aware of oe woman working for anLA who spent 8 YEARS on 3 month rolling contracts. It was only when she resigned (from a job she loved, because she wanted some security) that she was offered a permanent position. Goldenwight
  • Score: 4

8:54am Wed 3 Sep 14

Valentinian says...

My wife is three years 8months into what was sick leave Cover, the guy has been at work for 4 weeks in that time .....
My wife is three years 8months into what was sick leave Cover, the guy has been at work for 4 weeks in that time ..... Valentinian
  • Score: -6

8:55am Wed 3 Sep 14

Old Ladys Gin says...

It's the same old roundabouts and swings trick.
A business thinks it is cheaper to outsource work. A little while later they discover that it is not in fact saving them money.
They will then hire their own staff and the whole circus begins again.
It's the same old roundabouts and swings trick. A business thinks it is cheaper to outsource work. A little while later they discover that it is not in fact saving them money. They will then hire their own staff and the whole circus begins again. Old Ladys Gin
  • Score: 15

9:00am Wed 3 Sep 14

PenPushingPauper says...

They do this a lot... In a bid to make cost savings they cut down on permanent members of staff and fill roles with agency staff. I was working through an agency for them for well over a year (due to my department being ridiculously under-staffed they just had to keep me and other temps around)

Eventually they finally admitted they needed actual staff members to run the service so put me on a fixed term contract which they now renew again and again when my term ends and they realise we still have barely any staff.

The simple answer... Just employ people in the normal way and stop cutting corners. And if your agency staff are essentially running your whole service, employ them!

I'm really paid very little and am thus very cost effective. Why they wasted so much money paying my agency as well as me for so long I'll never know.
They do this a lot... In a bid to make cost savings they cut down on permanent members of staff and fill roles with agency staff. I was working through an agency for them for well over a year (due to my department being ridiculously under-staffed they just had to keep me and other temps around) Eventually they finally admitted they needed actual staff members to run the service so put me on a fixed term contract which they now renew again and again when my term ends and they realise we still have barely any staff. The simple answer... Just employ people in the normal way and stop cutting corners. And if your agency staff are essentially running your whole service, employ them! I'm really paid very little and am thus very cost effective. Why they wasted so much money paying my agency as well as me for so long I'll never know. PenPushingPauper
  • Score: 19

9:00am Wed 3 Sep 14

Joshiman says...

Was that another reason for the Council trying to raise Council taxes.So inexperienced its untrue.Everything they get involved with fails.Seafront works?Where are the workmen? Edward Street apparently one of the local traders said the workmen work a few hours a day.There seems to be no one in charge.Mr.Davey you will probably be remembered as the person who screwed up our roads with your badly thought out plans.What do the council workers actually do.Ten employed to do one persons work.Then a sicky and still get paid.
Was that another reason for the Council trying to raise Council taxes.So inexperienced its untrue.Everything they get involved with fails.Seafront works?Where are the workmen? Edward Street apparently one of the local traders said the workmen work a few hours a day.There seems to be no one in charge.Mr.Davey you will probably be remembered as the person who screwed up our roads with your badly thought out plans.What do the council workers actually do.Ten employed to do one persons work.Then a sicky and still get paid. Joshiman
  • Score: 4

9:37am Wed 3 Sep 14

fredflintstone1 says...

Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand.
Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand. fredflintstone1
  • Score: 7

11:43am Wed 3 Sep 14

kopite_rob says...

So last week I saw two contractors in James Street by the junction onto Edward Street spend 3 days cutting and filling pot holes.
Then yesterday a road scraper removed the entire road surface and the entire junction was relayed.

Two weeks ago I saw two guys from City Clean shovel and sweep sediment away from the cliff edge of the undercliff walk behind the Marina, and place the muck in bin bags!
All well and good but the drainage holes on the Marina side of the path are blocked with sediment.
As soon as it rained the path floods, additional sediment is washed off the cliff and with nowehere to drain adds more sediment.
Now they came back a week later and started to do the obvious thing which was to scrape along the edge of the Marina wall clearing the drainage holes.
However after 20 yards they must have got tired or bored and left what little they had done in little piles....by the drainage holes.
As Winter comes round the path will be covered with ice from the water that can't drain away and freeze thaw will break it up and leave an expensive repair job next spring.

Where are the managers and inspectors? This lot need supervising.

This Council has no one watching after the little things. No wonder the big things go completely pear shaped!

I guess the fact there relying on temps & agency staff says it all about why the Council can't deliver.
So last week I saw two contractors in James Street by the junction onto Edward Street spend 3 days cutting and filling pot holes. Then yesterday a road scraper removed the entire road surface and the entire junction was relayed. Two weeks ago I saw two guys from City Clean shovel and sweep sediment away from the cliff edge of the undercliff walk behind the Marina, and place the muck in bin bags! All well and good but the drainage holes on the Marina side of the path are blocked with sediment. As soon as it rained the path floods, additional sediment is washed off the cliff and with nowehere to drain adds more sediment. Now they came back a week later and started to do the obvious thing which was to scrape along the edge of the Marina wall clearing the drainage holes. However after 20 yards they must have got tired or bored and left what little they had done in little piles....by the drainage holes. As Winter comes round the path will be covered with ice from the water that can't drain away and freeze thaw will break it up and leave an expensive repair job next spring. Where are the managers and inspectors? This lot need supervising. This Council has no one watching after the little things. No wonder the big things go completely pear shaped! I guess the fact there relying on temps & agency staff says it all about why the Council can't deliver. kopite_rob
  • Score: 4

2:22pm Wed 3 Sep 14

DCCCCCC says...

rogerthefish wrote:
Hi stress? What doing nothing on the seafront non road works, or approving a tower that no one wants !
Working in children and families, dealing with people who can be aggressive in the housing department. Wouldn't want their job for the world!
[quote][p][bold]rogerthefish[/bold] wrote: Hi stress? What doing nothing on the seafront non road works, or approving a tower that no one wants ![/p][/quote]Working in children and families, dealing with people who can be aggressive in the housing department. Wouldn't want their job for the world! DCCCCCC
  • Score: 5

3:06pm Wed 3 Sep 14

BrighterStar says...

There is a general trend in the public sector toward use of agency staff again, driven ironically by the cuts in spending. Permanent positions have been cut but Council's are finding they have not properly understood the workloads and are forced back to the agencies to plug gaps - this may be a temporary blip but we shall see. I would also urge a bit of caution on interpreting sickness levels, some services such as those caring for vulnerable people cannot allow staff with any level of sickness to attend work if there is a risk to thosefor whom they care - so in effect they can't work even if they want to!
There is a general trend in the public sector toward use of agency staff again, driven ironically by the cuts in spending. Permanent positions have been cut but Council's are finding they have not properly understood the workloads and are forced back to the agencies to plug gaps - this may be a temporary blip but we shall see. I would also urge a bit of caution on interpreting sickness levels, some services such as those caring for vulnerable people cannot allow staff with any level of sickness to attend work if there is a risk to thosefor whom they care - so in effect they can't work even if they want to! BrighterStar
  • Score: 3

3:35pm Wed 3 Sep 14

brighton bluenose says...

fredflintstone1 wrote:
Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand.
Just how much 'nepotism and cronyism' is there that needs the 'rooting out' that you suggest?! Or is it that you are just making a sweeping generalisation based on the current alleged issue with the head of housing and, in fact, haven't got a clue what you are talking about?!
[quote][p][bold]fredflintstone1[/bold] wrote: Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand.[/p][/quote]Just how much 'nepotism and cronyism' is there that needs the 'rooting out' that you suggest?! Or is it that you are just making a sweeping generalisation based on the current alleged issue with the head of housing and, in fact, haven't got a clue what you are talking about?! brighton bluenose
  • Score: -2

4:54pm Wed 3 Sep 14

fredflintstone1 says...

brighton bluenose wrote:
fredflintstone1 wrote:
Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand.
Just how much 'nepotism and cronyism' is there that needs the 'rooting out' that you suggest?! Or is it that you are just making a sweeping generalisation based on the current alleged issue with the head of housing and, in fact, haven't got a clue what you are talking about?!
It's nothing to do with the alleged housing case. That is separate. I can assure you that you will be genuinely shocked as to what has been going on under the radar, but this is not the right forum to name names.
[quote][p][bold]brighton bluenose[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]fredflintstone1[/bold] wrote: Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand.[/p][/quote]Just how much 'nepotism and cronyism' is there that needs the 'rooting out' that you suggest?! Or is it that you are just making a sweeping generalisation based on the current alleged issue with the head of housing and, in fact, haven't got a clue what you are talking about?![/p][/quote]It's nothing to do with the alleged housing case. That is separate. I can assure you that you will be genuinely shocked as to what has been going on under the radar, but this is not the right forum to name names. fredflintstone1
  • Score: 1

5:06pm Wed 3 Sep 14

brighton bluenose says...

fredflintstone1 wrote:
brighton bluenose wrote:
fredflintstone1 wrote:
Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand.
Just how much 'nepotism and cronyism' is there that needs the 'rooting out' that you suggest?! Or is it that you are just making a sweeping generalisation based on the current alleged issue with the head of housing and, in fact, haven't got a clue what you are talking about?!
It's nothing to do with the alleged housing case. That is separate. I can assure you that you will be genuinely shocked as to what has been going on under the radar, but this is not the right forum to name names.
No need to name names but you could tell us in a broad brush way about how, for instance, 'it has been alleged that someone senior in the housing department has been taking backhanders from a certain well-known contractor' or somesuch without being tooo specific!!
[quote][p][bold]fredflintstone1[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]brighton bluenose[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]fredflintstone1[/bold] wrote: Is there more to this, which is contributing to sickness levels in the first place? Look at the situation in the BHCC Housing Department. At least one very senior staff member who allegedly may have exploited the system to benefit friends and family. This must make for a pretty toxic workplace environment. The council needs to root out nepotism and croneyism throughout its operations, and improve its whistle-blowing policies. These two aspect of good management practice go hand-in-hand.[/p][/quote]Just how much 'nepotism and cronyism' is there that needs the 'rooting out' that you suggest?! Or is it that you are just making a sweeping generalisation based on the current alleged issue with the head of housing and, in fact, haven't got a clue what you are talking about?![/p][/quote]It's nothing to do with the alleged housing case. That is separate. I can assure you that you will be genuinely shocked as to what has been going on under the radar, but this is not the right forum to name names.[/p][/quote]No need to name names but you could tell us in a broad brush way about how, for instance, 'it has been alleged that someone senior in the housing department has been taking backhanders from a certain well-known contractor' or somesuch without being tooo specific!! brighton bluenose
  • Score: -1

5:07pm Wed 3 Sep 14

wippasnapper says...

Now we know why they want to put up the council tax every year amazing they never tell use about the money they spend on agency staff but why did they make so many council staff redundant if they are only going to take on agency staff at a much higher cost.
Now we know why they want to put up the council tax every year amazing they never tell use about the money they spend on agency staff but why did they make so many council staff redundant if they are only going to take on agency staff at a much higher cost. wippasnapper
  • Score: 1

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