By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Staff recruitment concerns have been raised ahead of the creation of a multi-million pound regional adoption agency involving Kent and Medway councils.
Since 2016, Kent County Council, Medway Council and the London Borough of Bexley Council have been working together to deliver a regionalised adoption service, which is expected to be finalised by October 2020.
A total of £4.1m has been drafted into the authority partnership’s budget, with KCC expected to invest £2.9m for the first financial year. Medway has budgeted just over £665,000 while Bexley has ring-fenced around £564,000.
Each local authority’s budget caters for staff costs, such as salaries, but fears were raised by KCC’s children’s, young people and education committee last Friday (January 10) over competing with the neighbouring London authority for future social worker recruitment.
Cllr Gary Cooke (Con) told the committee: “Historically, one of the concerns we have had about the recruitment and retention of social workers in Kent has been our inability to recruit.
“We lost people who would go to the London boroughs because they received a bit more money…there is an issue there and we need to address that.”
Kent county councillor, Ida Linfield (Lib Dem), also said the employment package offered by KCC to its social workers was a “concern” in light of the pay differences.
KCC officers said there are not “huge variations” in the pay gap for social workers. But they did acknowledge that social workers in Bexley would receive a “London weighting” through their pay package.
Officers’ comments came during the KCC public meeting where the regional adoption agency’s business plan was being publicly discussed by its 18 councillors and council officers for the first time.
They told the committee: “We are not going to be faced with a situation where social workers in one authority are earning significantly more than a social worker in a neighbouring authority.”
Staff will continue to work for their respective local authority employer, but will be expected to work across all three bases if the service demands require it. If redeployed, the adoption agency’s social workers would not be expected to travel long distances, such as Dover to Bexley, the committee was told.
The phased implementation of the regionalised service will start from April 1 and the regional adoption agency is expected to officially ‘go live’ from October 2020. It is hoped the move will improve the efficiency of the service run by the three authorities, such as placements of children into foster care.
The adoption service restructure was first mooted by David Cameron’s government in March 2016 after setting a clear direction that the adoption services of all local authorities must be delivered on a regionalised basis by 2020.