Anticipated £1.1 million annual spend for agency staffing at Thanet council

Waste operatives

An annual budget of £1.1million is anticipated to pay for agency staff to cover council roles for the year.

Thanet council’s supplier spend data for 2023 – recording payments of £500 and above – show agency staff costs of:

January-March  £229,418

April-June  £339,118

July-Sept No agency staff payments (of £500 and over) listed for this period

October-December Data not yet uploaded to the TDC website

Councillors at a scrutiny meeting this evening (January 16) will discuss the need to renew the agency staff contract “to ensure that operational services can continue to be uninterrupted.”

A report to councillors will say: “To provide a consistent staffing provision in its frontline services, the council requires a contracted provider for temporary staff.

“This need is most prevalent in the cleansing department. The current contract, with provider HRGO, expired in April 2023, at which point the option to extend for an additional year was exercised. This extension expires on 12 April 2024.

“Cabinet has requested a report into the use of temporary staff, which will be forthcoming.”

Based on current spend, Thanet council says an annual budget of £1.1million is required.

Agency staff are used across departments, particularly to cover staff sickness, maternity leave, annual leave or other absences.

However, the cover is vital for cleansing roles. A council document states: “The cleansing service would not be able to function properly without the cover and flexibility offered by temporary/agency staff. So, it is imperative that a compliant contract is in place to have access to short term staff.

“Unpredictable fluctuations in attendance will need to be covered by temporary workers. Access to temporary staff is also critical to ensuring that seasonal services such as beach cleaning in the summer is fully staffed without impacting the standard service.

“The manual nature of the cleansing service means that only a very small amount of the work can be undertaken to a satisfactory standard with a reduced headcount. Not having the ability to call on staff to fill unexpected spaces in the daily deployment would have a negative impact on standards.

“Having to deliver the service without the full quota of staff would initially lead to street cleansing services being withdrawn for the day –  to lessen the impact upon collections – but would of course have a detrimental impact on how many roads are swept and litter bins emptied.

“The alternative of having additional TDC employees to cover these gaps would not be financially viable as there would be a considerable amount of time where they are surplus to operational needs.

“The use of agency staff is monitored closely and can be controlled with efficient management of sickness and absenteeism.”

HRGO is a provider for many of the agency staff roles and covers:

  • Cleansing
  • Crematorium
  • Open Spaces
  • Port and Harbour
  • Housing
  • Parking
  • Facilities
  • Public Realm

Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Panel will scrutinise the proposal to renew the contract.

The proposal will then be discussed by Cabinet members on January 25.

6 Comments

  1. Why ignore costs under £500 ? Surely that’s enough to cover at least a day for a contract beach cleaner or what ever.
    In addition what are the councils sickness and absentee rates?
    At one point in the 90’s the council had an average sickrate of 16 days per employee, which would be unimaginable for most employers.
    In a recent article did it not say that the councils budget was about 24 million? If so for 4% of that to be agency staff seems quite high.

    • It does seem strange that there are no recorded payments during the summer months when one would expect the number of agency staff for beach and street cleaning to increase . . .

  2. I knew this would start this would not happen in the private sector allegations, and you have not disappointed me.
    ‘At one point in the 90’s the council had an average sick rate of 16 days per employee, which would be unimaginable for most employers’.Just a small point that was 30 years ago.Now I know there is not a statute of limitations on being TDC, but 30 years is a long time to hold a grudge.
    Perhaps one way round this problem would be to create a GP crew who could at a pinch, cover other jobs. I am a strong advocate of teamwork, but if the priority changes because of sickness,urgency, or unknown, unknowns, you can fill in the gaps from within.
    This would not cover everything, and some in the workforce would resist change, but you could make a start, and slowly but surely reduce agency work.

    • I didn’t say it wouldn’t happen in the private sector ( the bad old days of 16 day average certainly wouldn’t) but in the ansence of knowing what the sickness and absentee rates are there’s no telling if they could be considered excessive. The absence of real detail will always invite speculation.
      Though from the list it would perhaps seem that many outdoor roles are covered by HRGO. Maybe TDC prefers to use agency staff rather than direct employment?

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