LAST YEAR, the council spending on temporary staff rose by almost two thirds according to new figures released under a Freedom of Information Act request.
The figures, for the financial year 2017-2018, show that Wokingham Borough Council allocated £7,811,563.03 for the employees, compared to £4,750,201.35 in the year 2016/17 – an increase of 64%. And a year earlier, 2015/16, they spent £4,017,165.64.
One of the reasons for the increase has been the introduction of an interim chief executive: Manjeet Gill took over from Andy Couldrick who left last summer.
The figures have been queried by Hawkedon Liberal Democrat councillor Clive Jones, who wanted to know why there had been such an increase in spending.
In a statement, he said: “What are the Conservatives doing here? I doubt very much if this massive increase was budgeted for, having so many employees on temporary contracts will not be good morale at the council or for staff continuity.”
He added that he had been told “that some contracts pay people £1,000 a day with the average payment being around £500 a day”.
And Cllr Jones claimed that the biggest increase in temporary employment contracts had been in Customer and Localities services: highways, grass cutting and bin collections.
“Residents will ask why has there been a £1,350,000 (170%) increase in temporary contracts in this department. There has also been a £950,000 (170%) increase in costs in people services which covers Education and Adult Social Care,” he said.
And in the statement, Cllr Jones also queried the financial picture of the council.
He said: “Why do the Conservatives appear to be so incompetent in looking after council tax payers money? An increase of over £3 million in temporary employment contracts and council debt increasing from £50 million a few years ago to around £400 million in the recent medium term financial plan suggests they are not looking after our money properly.”
However, the ruling Conservative body defended the decision to use additional temporary staff, citing its cost-saving programme, 21st Century Council, which it says will make Wokingham Borough Council more efficient and responsive.
Cllr Julian McGhee-Sumner, executive member for Finance, said: “In order to carry out 21st Century Council, we have needed to hire additional temporary staff for a limited period of time.
“It is worth pointing out, however, that these changes, when complete, will save £4 million worth of taxpayers’ money each year.
“Residents should be aware that Liberal Democrats have consistently refused to support 21st Century Council and the savings it will create for the benefit of people living in the Borough.
“Opposition councillors won’t back our plans to deliver high-quality, value-for-money services.
“So perhaps they can explain to local people which vital services they would cut, or which taxes or charges they would massively increase instead?”