Notts council’s ‘despair’ at social care agency spend

Nottinghamshire County Council.
Nottinghamshire County Council.

Private social care agencies are making “huge amounts of money” from charging for temporary social workers and foster carers in Nottinghamshire it is claimed..

Senior Labour and Conservative figures have both criticised what they called excessive costs of agency workers. 

It comes after Nottinghamshire County Council’s children’s social care budget went over budget by £8.5 million, caused in part by a sharp rise in the number of children who had to be taken into care in recent months. 

On average, it costs about £60,000 a year for the council to look after a child in care. 

Almost 100 more children had to be taken into care last year compared with the year before – and there are now twice as many children in care than there were a decade ago.

It is not a Nottinghamshire-specific problem.

One estimate stated 91 per cent of councils had overspent on children’s social care in the last financial year.

A leading Conservative figure called for price caps on agencies for how much they can charge, which he said had been trialled successfully in the NHS.

A senior Labour councillor said austerity had been the primary driver for the significant rises in children in care being seen in Notts and almost all other areas.

A report discussed today shows that neglect and abuse are by far the most common reasons for children being taken into care.

It also shows Nottinghamshire has a slightly lower rate of agency staff working as social workers – the Department for Education says the county has a 14 per cent rate, compared with a national rate of 15.4 per cent.

Councillor John Peck, Labour member for Sherwood Forest and a former headteacher, speaking in a meeting about the overspend, he said: “We’ve had 10 years of austerity.

“The chronic underfunding of early intervention, and the changes to the benefit system, all these things are adding together.

“It’s impacting in Nottinghamshire and across the country.

“There’s now no slack to take money from here and put it there, because it’s all gone. All the money’s gone.

“What really depresses me is the fact these issues have been around for years and the private sector has been making huge amounts of money.”

Coun Philip Owen, chairman of the council’s children’s committee, Tory member for Nuthall and Kimberley, told the committee: “I too am in despair at the cost of fostering agencies and social worker agencies, but we can’t manage without them.”

The former teacher said: “A lot of the firms which are running these agencies are not just in that business, they are huge conglomerates that are making a lot of money.”