‘Interim-gate’: Islington Council increases number of £600-a-day agency workers despite coronavirus black hole

Cllr Richard Watts. Picture: Polly Hancock

Cllr Richard Watts. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The number of people paid £600 or more a day by Islington Council has increased over the past year, despite claims that spending on agency staff had been brought under control.

Islington’s council leader referred to an Islington Gazette story about high spending on interim staff during a Facebook live stream last month when he mentioned “political shots”. He said “any leaks are unfortunate”, “often because they don’t give an accurate picture of what’s going on”.

The story reported that eight interim workers were being paid £900 a day in 2019, which would have equated to £1.5 million over a year.

Cllr Watts said the figures referred to in the story were from last August when the council “was spending a lot of money on agency staff”.

“We had a chief executive who retired, we had a range of other senior vacancies, we had a lot of agency staff in,” he said.

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“There were too many agency staff. We were actively recruiting to get that down and we are actively recruiting at the moment to carry on bringing that bill down.

“I’m really clear that we should be recruiting staff permanently, and we shouldn’t be using agency staff at all. If people want to have political shots, fair enough - but money is budgeted for.”

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The Gazette asked for clarification of the figures and it has emerged that the council is currently paying 18 interim staff at least £600 per day, compared to just 14 interim staff on the same last August.

The annual cost for all 18 workers would equate to about £2,800,000, or 7% of the £40m black hole the council is facing as a result of coronavirus.

The council refused to clarify how many of the workers are employed through an agency and how many are employed via a limited company.

Although the number of workers on £600 or more has gone up, there are now no interim staff on £900 or more - down fro five last August.

Islington Council’s former Lib Dem leader, Terry Stacy MBE, said the council should make this clear because it would affect their tax status.

“I am sure the council would want to ensure they are paying all the correct and relevant taxes,” he said.

“Sometimes councils do have to use agency staff, but the justification of the latest figures is just hot air from the council and Cllr Watts.

“What makes a mockery of his justification is that the number has increased not gone down recently.

“It shows a lack of succession planning around the retirement of the former chief executive and sloppiness in having so many vacancies at the top of the organisation at the same time. Questions need to be asked why that was the case.”

Islington’s sole Green opposition councillor, Caroline Russell, said: “It’s all very well blaming a period of senior staff turn-over for having so many highly paid interim agency staff, but this has been an ongoing issue and is a waste of council money, particularly when budgets are stretched worryingly thin by the impact of coronavirus.”

READ MORE: ‘Interim-gate’: Islington Council criticised for paying agency workers up to £900 per day

READ MORE: ‘Interim-gate’: Leader defends handling of council finances record amid agency staff salary revelations A spokesperson for the council said it is not expected that such a high spend on agency staff will be replicated this financial year, adding: “Since April 1, three interim and consultant contracts have also been terminated.

“The period around August 2019 was a highly unusual one, during which several key roles required urgent cover through interim appointments. “All but one of the contracts signed during this period have since been terminated.

“Islington Council supports permanent recruitment and makes permanent appointments where possible. The council sometimes uses interim appointments to cover a vacancy while permanent recruitment takes place.”

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