Many of the financial problems facing Bradford’s Children’s Services could have been avoided had the Council invested more in recruiting staff over five years ago – a councillor has claimed.
Councillor Mike Pollard (Cons, Baildon) believes that failure to invest in recruitment at a time nearby Councils were offering “top dollar” to social workers is one of the main reasons Bradford now relies so much on pricey agency staff.
He argued that better pay in areas like Kirklees led to an exodus of social workers from Bradford.
Cllr Pollard made the claims during the Council’s budget meeting last week, when members were told of the spiralling costs of Children’s Services in Bradford.
Recent figures show the Council spend over £2m a month on agency staff – which are needed due to a lack of permanent social workers.
At Thursday’s budget meeting, Cllr Pollard said: “In the summer of 2017 Michael Jameson, then Strategic Director of Children’s Services, along with a ‘politically led’ working group, looked at how Council could retain and recruit social work staff.
“The verdict was that an initial investment of just £1.4 million would ensure that Bradford Children’s Social Care workers were paid the same as at our neighbouring authorities, two of which had been assessed as inadequate and invest in some additional capacity.
“Mr Jameson has stated that it was June 2018 by the time that the Chief Executive released £478,000 of the some might say modest £1.4 million ‘ask’.
“The two neighbouring authorities judged inadequate were now paying ‘top dollar’ for front line social workers and managers and capacity had been increased.
“Kirklees Children’s Services were judged ‘Inadequate’ by OFSTED in 2016, when 26 per cent of Kirklees’ children’s social workers were agency staff.
“In 2019 an improvement journey had taken them to ‘Requires Improvement’ with OFSTED commenting ‘Children have their needs met by social workers who know their children well.’
“This is no doubt attributable to the fact that in 2019 the agency staff headcount was down to 2 per cent.
“By contrast, at the time of our then Strategic Director’s plea in 2017, agency staff counted for just 4 per cent of Bradford’s Children’s Social Care workforce – in 2019 it was 30 per cent. The improvement journey for our social workers was clearly the short distance from Bradford to Kirklees.
“Whilst vulnerable children in Kirklees were now getting to know their, formerly our, social workers well, vulnerable children in the care of or at the mercy of Bradford Council were being passed around an ever changing pool of expensive agency social workers and this continues to be the case.”
At Thursday’s meeting Councillor Imran Khan, Deputy Leader of the Council, said Bradford was suffering from “13 years of Tory incompetence.”
He added: “It is the reality of a failed austerity policy that we are all paying more for less.
“Nationally the market for social workers is flawed, the market for children’s homes is flawed. It’s a racket.”
He accused the Conservatives of making “cheap political shots” over Children’s Services.
Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe pointed out that the Council’s budget had been cut by over £300m a year since the Conservatives came to power.