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Council facing major challenges in social care recruitment

26 Mar 2024 3 minute read
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Nicholas Thomas, local democracy reporter

Recruiting social care workers has been described as a “real challenge” following a significant loss of staff in the last 12 months.

Around one in ten social workers in Newport has left their post in the past year, the council’s head of social services has warned in a stark reminder of the challenges facing the sector.

Sally Jenkins said Brexit, competition with the private sector, and a lack of graduate social workers had all piled pressure on councils nationwide trying to recruit and retain staff.

The council has resorted to effectively boycotting former public-sector social workers who jumped ship to join a private agency for better pay, she told a Newport Council committee meeting on Tuesday (March 26).

“Real” challenges in recruitment are “not a Newport issue” but affect all local authorities, she explained, adding that “the amount of control we have over [those issues] is limited”.

Turnover rate

Newport City Council’s social services department employs around 1,150 staff, the vast majority of whom are full-time workers, the committee heard.

But last year’s turnover rate was 11.73%, with 150 people starting in a post and 135 staff leaving.

There are currently between 100 and 200 vacancies within the council’s social services team.

Ms Jenkins said recruitment was a “significant issue in social care” but councils had to make sure they were “recruiting the right people to do the job” – rather than attempting to fill posts quickly.

Councils have been forced into taking drastic measures to discourage staff from taking better-paid agency jobs.

“We now don’t use social workers who have left within the last six months from a neighbouring local authority,” Ms Jenkins said.

“If a social worker leaves and goes to an agency, we won’t use them through that agency,” she added, explaining that the policy required all councils to take the same stance.

“If the 22 local authorities come together, we’ve got a fighting chance,” she said, but told the committee councils will “always need agencies” and it would be preferable to work with them “rather than getting into a battle”.

Agency staff

Committee member Pat Drewett told Ms Jenkins he was “heartened to hear the efforts not to use agencies” and to employ staff directly.

Chairman Will Routley, however, said he was “not quite sure” whether the policy was “right or wrong”, noting it could make it more difficult to bring in agency staff in a pinch.

But there are other factors which mean social care staff are in short supply, Ms Jenkins said.

This includes Brexit, particularly in adult care, where Newport Council has “had reliance” on European workers.

And the number of people taking higher education courses in social care has also dropped in recent years due to a complex mixture of reasons, the meeting heard.

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