'Immoral' recruitment agencies criticised for 'poaching' Wakefield Council social workers and putting pressure on children's services
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Councillors were told it is putting pressure on the authority's children's services department.
A committee heard many social workers nationally are opting to work for agencies as rates of pay are better due to tax benefits.
Councillor David Jones, chair of Wakefield Council's Children and Young People Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said staff were being poached by agencies who then sold their services back to the local authority.
He described the practice as "morally wrong" as it threatened to destabilise the hard work being done to protect vulnerable children.
In 2018 Wakefield's children's services were put in special measures after being given an 'inadequate' rating by Ofsted.
Within three years, the service was rated as 'good' and it's leadership 'outstanding', earning the Council a national award.Much of the focus of the transformation of the service was down to reducing agency workers and recruiting permanent staff.Having a permanent and stable team of social workers is seen as a key factor in ensuring the service performs well.
Cheryl Whitehouse, acting service director, told the meeting: "It is a national issue and not one that is confined to Wakefield.
"We know there are project teams out there who are outside of the Inland Revenue regulations and they (social workers) can get considerable tax benefits as a result of going to their teams.
"It is more financially beneficial for them and given the cost of living crisis they are choosing to go to agencies."
Ms Whitehouse said the service had put together a 'recruitment and retention workforce strategy' that includes increasing social work pay grades.
A programme of social worker apprenticeships has begun and the Council is working with universities as part of the recruitment drive.
Coun Jones said: "I am angry about this because I know that when we started this journey of improvement it was one of the big issues.
"The service has done so much to try to really work at this in order to retain staff.
"It is disgraceful that these sort of things are happening and the structure outside of this authority allows these things to happen."
"It prejudices the work that this authority is doing and it is also prejudicing the support networks for children.
"It really makes you angry this sort of thing is happening, because it is almost as if you are fighting on another front again, which should not be happening."
The meeting heard around 90 per cent of social worker positions were filled in September last year.
Since then the number of social workers reduced by 15.
Coun Jones continued: "As a committee, we recognise all the good work that has been done by the service to ensure that there is retention of stable staff.
"We know that a stable staff is the one thing that ensures the success of both the service and the young people that are being cared for.
"You have got these agencies who are coming in and poaching staff after they have been trained.
"They come in and take these staff away and then sell them back to us.
"It is morally wrong."
Vicky Schofield, Wakefield Council’s Corporate Director for Children and Young People, said: “We’d really encourage people choose to become a permanent part of our team.
"Wakefield’s social workers will not only benefit from a positive and enthusiastic culture which is recognised by Ofsted, but they will also be able to take better advantage of a fantastic development programme that aims to help them thrive in their roles and boost their career path.
“Financially, it also pays to be permanent when you consider the Council’s competitive salary, the corporate benefits, essential car user payments and generous pension scheme.
"It really is the better deal for you and your career.”