Council-led initiatives to cap pay rates for agency children’s social workers have begun to reduce high staff turnover in parts of England, LGC has been told.
Under one scheme in the east of England, all 11 top tier authorities signed up to a “memorandum of co-operation” last September in which they agreed not to exceed a set pay rate.
A protocol to achieve a similar end, agreed by 14 authorities in the West Midlands, went live in January.
Councils in the East Midlands and London are now close to signing up to similar deals while talks on such an approach have begun between authorities in the South East and the South West.
Louise Tibbert, head of HR and organisational development at Hertfordshire CC, who led the development of East of England agreement, said councils collaboration could “put some pressure on the market”.
“[Our] memorandum is a set of promises to one another about how we’ll behave, in terms of not poaching social workers but providing support and working with agencies.
“It’s starting to have an impact. We’re starting to see some of the vacancy rates stabilise a bit.”
She continued: “We know some agencies employ underhand tactics to encourage social workers to leave their authorities and go into the temp market. A bit of peer pressure is now building in the supply market as well.”
Polly Reed, programme manager for children’s services at Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands, a council-funded consultancy, said some authorities reported fewer agency staff leaving.
“[There is ] less churn in the system altogether,” she added. “That’s one of the main goals of the programme: to stabilise the market and stop the spiralling costs.”
Ms Reed said the protocol also aimed to improve the quality of social workers and had introduced a standard reference template for social workers moving between councils.
This gave authorities access to social worker’s recent employment history.
The Local Government Association’s senior workforce advisor Suzanne Hudson said the agreements allowed councils to collaborate and meant agencies were no longer dictating prices.
Research by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services last year found two-thirds of authorities reported recruitment and retention issues and an increased reliance on agency staff.
Figures from the Department for Education puts the vacancy rate for children’s social workers in councils across England at 15%. In almost a quarter of top tier authorities, more than a fifth of positions were filled by agency social workers.