Watchdogs to look at social care

GOVERNMENT watchdogs are to investigate the amount of money being spent by a cash-strapped council on temporary social workers, it has emerged.As revealed by the EADT in September, Essex County Council has been spending more than £7million a year hiring agency staff to tackle a recruitment crisis in the care sector.

GOVERNMENT watchdogs are to investigate the amount of money being spent by a cash-strapped council on temporary social workers, it has emerged.

As revealed by the EADT in September, Essex County Council has been spending more than £7million a year hiring agency staff to tackle a recruitment crisis in the care sector.

The £7.4million spent in 2003/4 was 34 times greater than the £215,000 spent by Suffolk County Council during the same period.

Although Essex council chiefs insist the shortage of qualified social workers is a national problem and that they are introducing a range of initiatives to alleviate the problem, a special Audit Commission team will look at the authority's arrangements next spring.


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The revelation comes in a Commission for Social Care and Inspection (CSCI) report studied yesterday by the council's cabinet.

In its annual review of council performance in social care, the CSCI praises the council for its improvement in a number of areas, but it also raises key concerns.

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It says vacancies for social service staff have increased, though it acknowledges some improvement in staff turnover.

However, it adds: “The Audit Commission inspection of purchasing arrangements next spring will focus on the use of agency staffing and the impact of the new contract on efficiency.

“The recommendations of these reviews will need careful consideration as the risk of failure to recruit qualified staff continues to present a risk to all areas of children's performance.”

The council, which is expecting no change to its overall two-star “good” rating for its social services in a CSCI announcement later this month, claimed elements of the latest report as proof of continuing improvement.

It said services for people with learning and physical disabilities were better with more people in training and employment and also living independently.

However, the report said Essex's performance for completing assessments for care packages was “poor.”

Derek Robinson, cabinet member for community care, said “This report acknowledges the hard work of officers that has delivered improvements across the piece, but also acknowledges that we still have more to do.”

But Neil Spurgeon, deputy leader of the opposition Labour group, said he had demanded an urgent review of the council's care assessment services.

“This is a damning report highlighting Essex as one of the worst local authorities in the country regarding the services it provides for people needing social care,” he said.

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