The Recruitment and Employment Confederation has hit back at union claims that local authorities are wasting millions of pounds on employing temporary and agency staff instead of recruiting permanent staff.
In a report the GMB union claimed Birmingham City Council was the biggest spender with an annual agency staff bill of £51m.
Just behind Birmingham was Ealing Borough Council in London, which spent £44m on staff.
Tom Hadley, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s director of external affairs, dismissed the GMB claims, saying the figures should be put into context.
“Birmingham is Europe’s largest local authority, and employs more than 55,000 staff, so it is realistic that a proportion should be made up of temporary and agency staff. Most of these are made up of specialists such as supply teachers and social workers,” he said.
“The total amount the council spends on its temporary staffing budget is only a fraction of the overall staffing bill and must be seen in context of other costs such as the £374m spent on its housing stock.”
Hadley pointed to the latest Audit Commission report on Ealing, which revealed that the council underspent by £1.8m on its 2004/05 budget. The report also showed that at 20%, the authority had a very high turnover of staff so had been reliant on temporary workers to fulfil its staffing needs. The council has since put plans in place to address its local skills shortages.
“What the union fails to address through these figures is the fact that many people chose temporary instead of permanent work because it suits their lifestyle and because it offers them flexibility, choice and autonomy,” Hadley said.
“A flexible and diverse workforce is crucial to all local economies especially ones the size of Birmingham where they have to outsource to recruitment agencies in order to find specialist staff or simply to work during special events in the city. In the case of Ealing, they have had to address the issue of a high staff turnover by bringing in staff through agencies.”