Northants County Council’s £1.5m temporary staff bill

Jim Harker, leader of Northamptonshire County Council.
Jim Harker, leader of Northamptonshire County Council.

Northamptonshire County Council spent almost £1.5m on temporary staff in the past year.

The Telegraph can reveal the figures days after hundreds of council workers were told their jobs are at risk, under plans to cut about 200 jobs to balance the books and help make savings of £32m.

According to information obtained through a Freedom of Information request, the authority has employed 35 temporary staff who cost more than £300 in the past 12 months, paying them a combined total of £1,499,109.

Five of these worked in either children’s services, human resources or the projects and planning team. All of the remaining 30 worked in IT.

The most costly of these, employed for 12 months from June 2011, cost the taxpayer more than £95,000 after they and their agency were paid £475 a day for their services.

The other three highest-paid cost the authority £81,527, £72,769 and £69,988 and some of those recruited cost £600 a day or more.

Some of the temporary staff were recruited from employment agencies based in London and south-west England.

All of the temporary staff were recruited from agencies and about a third of them are still employed at the council with contracts expected to end in March next year.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said the authority normally recruits temporary staff to work on individual projects.

She said: “The majority of these roles are IT specialists hired to work on specific, short-term projects.

“This is a more cost-effective approach than recruiting permanent staff to cover this work.

“Otherwise, once the project is over, we would be left with staff who have nothing to work on.”

Steve Bennett, Northamptonshire Unison branch secretary, said he was surprised about the £1.5m figure.

He added: “We are currently going through a process where 150 full-time posts could be made redundant and the county council is talking about taking £4m from staff by making changes to our terms and conditions.

“What on earth are the council doing hiring temporary staff against that background?

“If the council can’t keep hold of the expertise to carry out this work themselves, then perhaps they need to look at the terms and conditions to make them more favourable so we can get better people.”

Northamptonshire County Council’s IT services are currently managed by LGSS – a partnership organisation which provides back-office support services such as IT and human resources.

The county council released its draft budget on Tuesday, announcing cuts to its Meals on Wheels service, making changes to staff terms and conditions and slashing more than £3.6m from its children’s social care budget.

However, the authority admitted in a press conference on Tuesday morning that 150 full-time-equivalent jobs would have to be lost, which chief executive Paul Blantern said would probably mean about 200 positions in all.

He said the predicted job losses would affect a number of departments.

He said: “About 300 people are being informed they will be affected and from these, 150 full-time positions will leave the organisation.”

Dr Blantern said some of the job losses would affect the education department as the academy schools scheme meant the county council had less of a direct hand in education.

He added: “Several years ago we employed about 8,000 people. That has gone down to about 5,900.”

The county council said it has been forced to make savings of £32m this year.

About £19m of this is a result of additional pressures on existing services, such as care for the elderly and young people. The remaining £13m is because the council is expecting to receive less grant money from the Government than it had predicted.

Council leader Jim Harker said: “It is not fun, obviously. It is not what I came into local government for.”

The council is proposing a number of changes to staff terms and conditions, including reductions in sick pay, having mandatory unpaid leave and opting out of the national pay structure.

Elsewhere, the county council says it has integrated some of the work of some departments with neighbouring authorities, such as highways and waste disposal, saving more than £2m.

The savings and cuts mean the county council is not increasing its element of the council tax bill for the third year running.

The budget is now being scrutinised for the next eight weeks and will not be confirmed until February 21 next year, meaning some changes could still be made.

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