Agency staff issue down to ‘poor management’

Causeway Coast and Glens Council’s high agency staff wage bill is down to ‘poor management’  according to DUP Councillor Adrian McQuillan, writes Gillian Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter.

Monday, 14th June 2021, 12:14 pm

The Bann DEA Councillor also added that ‘someone needs to get a handle on it’ and that ‘we owe it to those people to get it sorted.’

The bill for Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council agency staff increased by 7% from £7.3m in 2018-19 to £7.8m in 2019-20, accounting for 33% of the total wage bill, according to the Local Government Audit report which was brought before the Council’s Audit Committee.

This increase comes despite recommendations in the 2018-19 Audit Report to those Charged with Governance (RTTCWG) that it should identify its permanent staff requirement and commence recruitment as appropriate. 

Cllr McQuillan said: “This report wasn’t an easy read but the thing I want to concentrate on is the agency staff.

“In 2019/20 the bill for our agency staff rose accounting for 33% of our total wage bill, when are we going to get a handle on agency staff. 

“I’ve been in Council for two years now and we have talked about it and talked about it in numerous committees but no one has taken a handle on it and said right I’m going to sort that out.

“It’s getting to a stage when we are going to have to set a deadline for directors to do this because at the minute the way it is going it’s just going to be let run on.

“It seems strange that in 19/20 to have more agency staff because we actually furloughed staff. Surely some of those staff that were furloughed could have filled in those roles that the agency staff were doing.

“I think it is poor management to tell you the truth. I don’t know who needs to get a handle on it but someone needs to get a handle on it.”

Director of Corporate Services Moira Quinn responded to the councillor’s comments saying; “We brought a report to the committee meeting in March with all the details of the analysis. Out of our agency staff approximately 80% are sitting between two directorates – Environmental Services and Leisure and Development, where job descriptions are being finalised and agreed and that will account for 150/160 jobs at this minute in time.

“I should caveat that, there will always be a need for agency staff for seasonal type work and in the short term for fixed-term contracts but I appreciate and accept the level we are working at is unacceptable and does need to change.

Cllr McQuillan described it as being ‘not only is it bad for our organisation, it’s bad for people who are agency staff.’ 

He said: “Their lives are put on hold and I’ve heard from three or four people who have been agency staff for Council for as long as 10 or 15 years and their life has been at a standstill from day one because they can’t move on with mortgages or anything else.

“We owe it to those people to get it sorted and to recruit the right staff as well.”

The Mayor, UUP Cllr Richard Holmes referred to the cost of moving agency staff onto a permanent contract.

“In an ideal world we would have nobody on agency other than using our seasonal or some of our flex staff to cover illness as most companies do,” he said. “The one thing we need to be conscious of is moving all these staff across. There’s a couple of percent to go on the rates because of the cost, something we are going to have to be very congescent of when it comes to budget setting.”

Ms Quinn agreed saying; “If we take as an average add a third on to the salary in terms of employer costs and pensions on top of that it will all have to be built into the formula as well.”

Adrian McQuillan responded :  “Is the Mayor saying because it would put a couple of percent on the rates we shouldn’t make these people permanent. No matter what it is on the rates we have to make these people permanent and I think it is very important.

Committee Chair Sinn Fein Cllr Dermot Nicholl agreed with Cllr McQuillan’s sentiments about the agency staff saying ‘we have to look at ourselves as an organisation’ we are seven years into a new Council and there are still people who haven’t a clue what is happening.

“I take your point Mayor about the cost but at the end of the day when you weigh it up against the people that are sitting there as agency staff. We have to be more serious about things.”