Social worker fee came to 108,750 pounds

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The Independent Online
A LOCAL AUTHORITY paid more than pounds 100,000 to a recruitment agency to head-hunt temporary social workers, while its own staff staged a year-long strike.

At least one of the 30 social workers taken on by the London Borough of Camden was sacked within days of their appointment for incompetence, but 14 are still employed even though the industrial action has ended.

The company, Consultancy Care, based in Harrow, north London, was paid a total of pounds 108,750. Other agencies declined to send staff because of a boycott imposed by the union Nalgo.

Candidates were interviewed in hotel rooms and the company, which is not listed in telephone directories, was paid a fee of pounds 3,625 for each social worker recruited.

Camden's social work staff of about 150 went on strike last year in an attempt to win better pay through regrading, but the authority believed it had a principle to defend and defied the pressure.

The staff returned to work earlier this year with the union conceding that it had lost the bitter industrial dispute, which crippled services throughout the borough.

While the strike continued, the authority was stating it had no difficulty replacing striking social workers it had sacked. It says it was imperative that it maintained its child protection service, while in court cases involving matters like adoption it was legally bound to have social workers and called in the agency to find the staff.

A spokesman defended the cost of using the agency, saying the fees included a venue for interviews, the elimination of candidates, checks with the police and the taking up of references.

He said that the authority had saved pounds 1.9m from the payroll while the staff were on strike and the cost of pounds 100,000 should be viewed with that in mind.

Richard Arthur, chairman of the social services committee, said: 'We would much rather have paid the staff to do the job they were meant to be doing, but they chose not to do so. At the same time Nalgo paid out pounds 1.5m in strike pay to ensure they were not doing the job. In my mind that that's the real scandal.'