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London boroughs unite to end ‘bidding wars’ over social workers

Children’s services in London are collaborating to avoid the rising costs of expensive agency staff and avoid fighting to recruit the same social workers, a body representing authorities has announced.

16/02/23

London boroughs unite to end ‘bidding wars’ over social workers

The move follows a recently launched a consultation on the social work workforce and the use of children’s social care agencies, which was published alongside its new strategy for children’s social care.

London Councils – an organisation representing the local authorities in the region – said that they face ‘immense financial pressures and challenges recruiting and retaining children’s social workers’, and boroughs have therefore agreed London-wide pay rates and a policy of not using agency candidates who left permanent posts elsewhere in the capital within the past six months.

Boroughs say the unprecedented level of collaboration is reducing competition between one another over children’s social care staff. With boroughs also working more closely with agency suppliers of social workers, children’s services departments report they have better control of costs, as well as upholding high standards through more information sharing on references and improving retention rates.

There are around 5,600 children’s social workers in the capital and agency workers account for 22% of the workforce – the highest of any region in England.

Authorities highlight that stabilising the workforce will bring important benefits to the vulnerable children supported by these services. Children have expressed frustration at frequent changes to their social workers. Minimising staff turnover and providing long-term relationships with individual social workers encourages trust and produces much better outcomes for children and families.

The collaboration across the capital is part of a wider workforce programme led by the Association of London Directors of Children’s Services. London Councils say that every borough is now sharing staffing and recruitment data transparently and “contributing to a shared strategy aimed at reducing competition and improving the working environment for social workers”. A formal London Pledge was launched in June 2022, with almost all boroughs committed to its protocols.

However, London boroughs warn there remains unhelpful competition over children’s social worker recruitment with local authorities outside the capital. Boroughs believe closer collaboration between councils is needed at a national level and welcome the opportunity to contribute to the government’s consultation on these issues.

“When it comes to children’s social care workforce strategies, replacing competition with collaboration will bring big benefits to boroughs and our staff,” Cllr Ian Edwards, London Councils’ Executive Member for Children & Young People, said.

“The London Pledge is an important step forward. Although it only started six months ago, we are already seeing some improvements, and we are keen to investigate the potential for more collaboration across the country. London boroughs firmly believe this collegiate approach will bring much-needed stability and improve results for everyone.”

Children’s social care represents a major finance pressure point for London boroughs. Demand for services has increased as the capital’s child population has grown fast over the last decade – up 14% in London compared to 6% across the rest of England. London Councils estimates that boroughs collectively overspend on their children’s social care budgets by around £200 million each year.

London boroughs are holding a series of pan-London ‘Big Listen’ focus groups for children’s social workers to discuss issues such as career development, pay and conditions, challenges, disproportionality, and training opportunities. More information: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/MHSRHYP

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