Wigan Council has spent almost £3m on agency social care workers in the past three years, new figures have revealed.
Data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the town hall has spent £2,929,411.99 since 2014 on temporary staff to carry out social care work.
A total of 52 agency workers have been employed in the adult social care department and 50 have been working with the children’s social care teams.
Tasks ranging from carrying out independent reviews to providing occupational therapy, leisure help and residential support have been entrusted to employees not permanently on the council’s payroll.
Wigan Council has strongly defended the use of agency workers but trade union Unison, which represents large numbers of local government employees, said the town hall should invest in its permanent workforce instead.
Unison North West regional organiser Sean Gibson said: “Council staff have experienced year-after-year of staffing cuts and increasing workload pressures. Wigan Council has been badly affected by massive cuts in central government funding that are putting tremendous strain on our public services.
“We believe that the council should generally avoid spending money on agency staff and instead invest in their own direct employees to ensure that services are properly staffed.”
The FOI figures show there were 16 adult social care workers attached to agencies and 18 employees in children’s social care at a cost of £982,056.32 in 2014.
The council then spent £1,161,592.70 in 2015 employing 21 adult social care workers and 12 children’s social care workers, while for 2016 the town hall picked up a £785,762.97 bill for 15 employees to work with adults and 20 to provide children’s social care.
Positions filled by agency workers include generic support workers, residential support workers, social workers, occupational therapists, leisure assistants and independent reviewing officers.
The council issued a robust defence of employing agency workers, saying it was essential to be able to respond to unexpected situations and sudden surges in need.
The town hall also said the bill for outside staff represents only a tiny proportion of the overall spending on its workforce.
Sonia Halliwell, assistant director for human resources at Wigan Council, said: “The safety and wellbeing of residents is our first priority and we will take the appropriate steps to make sure that we fulfil our role in keeping people safe and healthy at all times.
“But the nature of social care means that the demand is not fixed and therefore when we face a period of extra requirement we will need temporary support to make sure that the needs of residents are met at all times.
“There is no relation between any redundancies and the need for this ad hoc cover for these roles as the work is only short term to cover spikes in demand.
“Agency costs over the last three years in adult and children and families social care equate to two per cent of the total workforce spend.”