Union's anger over temporary staff costs

A UNION has accused councils across Suffolk and Essex of short changing the public by overly relying on temporary staff.

Russell Claydon

A UNION has accused councils across Suffolk and Essex of short changing the public by overly relying on temporary staff.

Nearly £20 million was spent by the 14 councils in the region on employing agency and temporary staff in 2006/2007, figures have revealed.

The spending was announced by the workers union GMB yesterday following a Freedom of Information request.

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Their leaders branded it a “horrific abuse” of taxpayer's money and said the councils were clearly doing more than just plugging gaps with the temporary staff.

Mid Suffolk District Council were also criticised for refusing to comply with the request to release the amount they had spent over the period. A spokesperson from the council told the EADT they could not issue a comment yesterday on why the information was withheld.

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Ed Blissett, GMB Regional Secretary for the eastern region, said: “Eastern region councils spent £104.5 million. This was part of £1.7 billion pounds of taxpayer's money in 2006/2007 spent by councils across the UK. This is a horrific abuse of the public purse.”

He said it demonstrated it was more than such filling gaps and amounted to a deliberate scam to use cheap labour which would jeopardise the quality of the councils work.

He added they would be calling on Councillors across the land to “get a grip on this out of control spending” by putting themselves forward to enter into discussions to solve the problem.

Essex County Council was named as the third highest spending local authority of the 54 councils that make up the eastern region, ploughing more than £10.5 million into acquiring temporary staff. But they would not comment upon the figure or the reliance upon agency and temporary staff.

A spokesman said they strive to deliver “excellent uninterrupted services to the residents of Essex”.

The neighbouring county council in Suffolk spent a little over £2.6 million. A spokesman for them said at the last recent assessment there had around 220 temporary workers.

“This is about 2.1% of the total non-school staff which stands at a figure of 10,215 and does not include fixed term contracts,” he said.

“The appointments are only made on a rationale business basis in order to make sure current work is done without entering fixed employment.”

He would not comment on whether this saved the tax payer money or increased the cost.

Of the district and borough councils Ipswich and Chelmsford spent £1.2 million and £1.9 million respectively.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council put nearly £500,000 into employing temporary staff and said claimed they had saved the council taxpayer money.

“We use agency staff, at specially negotiated low rates, to plug temporary holiday and sickness gaps.

“This is a much cheaper option for council tax payers. We also have a larger number of temporary contracts just now because we are looking at saving money when we move into West Suffolk House by sharing some services with Suffolk County Council.”

Babergh District Council was one of the highest spenders for their size, spending £804,000 but said more than 90% of their wage bill went on permanent staff in 2007/08.

Council spending across Suffolk and Essex on employing agency and temporary staff in 2006/2007:

Local Authority Spending

Babergh £804,000

Braintree £310,000

Chelmsford £1,920,000

Colchester £631,000

Essex County £10,541,000

Forest Heath £221,000

Ipswich £1,227,000

Maldon £62,000

Mid Suffolk refused (cost)

St Edmundsbury £498,000

Suffolk Coastal £251,000

Suffolk County £2,671,000

Tendering £99,000

Waveney £614,000

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