Friday 3 January 2020

Are agency staff costs out of control in Barnet?

For years I have been raising concerns about Barnet Council spending on agency staff. From a peak of just under £20 million a year in 2016/17 it has been declining and at the current rate should hit around £14.5 million by the year end.

However, I also review the monthly agency spend by department and what I have seen it a rising trend for agency spend in the Streetscene department which includes the refuse collection department. I have yet to see any evidence that the massive round reorganisation that took place in November 2018 has generated a single penny of savings and at the same time I have seen the agency spend continue to rise. Back in June I raised concerns that Streetscene was spending on average £50,000 a week on agency staff but in October that had risen much further and in November we saw two weeks where the agency spend was over £80,000 per week. So what this suggests is that while spend in some departments is falling, any savings are being offset by increases in the Streetscene department and I suspect this is to bolster the disastrous refuse collection changes. The agency spend did decline at the end of the month but that is a reflection of the fact that the green bin collections were paused early (10 November) because of the subsidence problems at the new Oakleigh Road waste depot. Public scrutiny has been gagged in Barnet and as such these trends are simply ignore at committee meetings and I get the impression that most councillors never actually drill down onto the figures.

Capita spend was comparatively low in November because there were no quarterly payments made this month but the running total for the contract to date is still £166.5 million more than was contracted.

2020 should see the 6/7 year review of the two Capita contracts but I have no confidence that they will examine what has been going on and whether Barnet residents are actually getting a good value service. I will keep watching how Barnet are spending our money.

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