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

Islington Town Hall.Picture:Ken Mears

Islington Town Hall.Picture:Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Islington Council is paying some interim workers more than £100 per hour – at a time when it’s more cash-strapped than ever due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The Gazette understands senior agency staff are making up to £900 a day working for the council. This comes as the town hall has been lobbying for more funding from central government, warning the lockdown could cost it £60m by the end of the year.

Labour councillors on the policy and performance scrutiny committee (PPSC) have raised concerns about the increasing number of interim workers in senior positions in the council. Some allege there hasn’t been a chance to scrutinise whether the posts are needed, whether they are for a fixed term, and whether they will be reviewed if costs continue to spiral.

The Gazette has seen figures from 2019 which show Islington Council was paying rates for eight senior interims which would have equated to £1.5million over a year.

An Islington Council spokesperson said: “Islington Council fully supports permanent recruitment across the council, and makes permanent appointments whenever possible. Interim appointments are sometimes made to cover a vacancy while permanent recruitment takes place.”

Islington Council’s former Lib Dem leader, Terry Stacy MBE, said: “It’s extremely unhealthy for a council to become so dependent on interims and temporary staff that are costing the council tax payer an arm and a leg. The cost of these seems to have run away from itself without any proper scrutiny by backbenchers of the council, the lack of scrutiny committees generally are an issue about a democratic deficit, which I’m sorry to say, the Covid-19 crisis is being used as an excuse.

“What has the council got to hide? Why can’t they recruit permanently to fill these posts if needed? If they can’t, why don’t people want to come and work here?”

Islington’s sole Green opposition councillor, Caroline Russell, said the delay in restarting committee meetings since lockdown was declared on March 23 “has left council decision making unaccountable and mired in secrecy”.

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She added: “It’s understandable that officers have had to make decisions and keep essential services running, but local democracy depends on effective oversight for good governance and this is all the more essential in a super-majority council like Islington.

“The coronavirus crisis has shown how important our lowest paid workers are for keeping us safe. Cleaners, transport workers, refuse collectors, street sweepers, care and NHS workers have got us through the months since lockdown started.

“So it is particularly worrying that there has been no scrutiny since January of high paid interim staffing decisions when council budgets are so stretched by the ongoing crisis.”

The council says all committee meetings are now being reinstated. The next public PPSC meeting is due to be held via Zoom on July 2.

It’s the latest spat within Islington Labour over council spending, after the Gazette revealed there was “bad feeling” at a meeting where a vote was narrowly passed in favour of creating a new position on the executive in late April. Council leader Richard Watts wanted to create a new separate post for community safety (currently combined with the education portfolio), which would have come with its own £30,912 allowance. No announcement has since been made about this, suggesting the plan may have been quietly shelved.