ALMOST a third of social work posts in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council children’s services are not filled by permanent staff.

Most of the positions are covered by more expensive agency staff while the authority steps up its recruitment, retention and training programme.

The council, along with many others in the country, has long suffered a shortfall in the number of trained social workers and is aiming to have a fully staffed workforce, without agency staff, by April 2024.

Members of the council’s children’s overview and scrutiny committee were told that the council also had a rolling programme of job advertising which had recently attracted seven potential recruits and was offering a standard £3,000 recruitment and retention payment, £7,000 for team manager. It can also offer payments to help new staff moving into the area of up to £8,000.

The committee heard that regular checks were made to ensure the council’s pay rates and other incentives remained competitive.

The council’s workforce is about to be supported by 15 international social workers, recruited through an agency, due to start work in February and March 2022. They had been due to start in January but were delayed by Covid travel restrictions. Neighbours Dorset Council has followed a similar solution to its staff shortages recently taking on social workers from Kenya.

A report to the committee says that despite all the packages in place the council has continued to suffer a high level of staff turnover which has impacted on performance.

“At times we have lost large numbers of social workers and team managers in a short space of time, particularly to neighbouring authorities, and we have been concerned that people will not want to come to work for BCP Council because news of our challenges travels.”

Councillors were told that 31 exit interviews carried out during the last year showed that the top three reasons for leaving were unmanageable workloads, not feeling valued, and the council culture.

Interim director of children’s service Elaine Redding, who is shortly to leave the council, said in September, in response to a critical Ofsted report on the local provision for children with additional health and education needs: “The council accepts that a major transformation programme is needed locally to make services to children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as strong and supportive as they need to be.”

A similar commitment was been made by the Dorset Clinical Commission Group which works alongside the council with children and families in need of extra support.