THE leader of Wrexham Council says recruitment and retention of staff to work in adult social care and children’s services is one of the authority’s biggest challenges.

At next week’s executive board meeting, Esclusham Cllr Mark Pritchard (Ind), also the lead member for finance, will give an update on the council’s revenue outturn.

In a media briefing ahead of that meeting, Cllr Pritchard explained one of the biggest budget pressures the authority has is the staffing of children’s services.

He said supply and demand, the ability of authorities over the border to offer more lucrative pay as well as agencies being able to provide a better work-life balance, has made it an expensive service area and difficult for the council to budget for.

This is coupled with the difficulty to predict the numbers of people who will need adult social care and children’s services across the year.

“You just don’t know what the future holds”, Cllr Pritchard said.

“We don’t know how many cases will come through our door.

“When a judge makes a decision that we have to keep children safe, we keep them safe. Then we have to find placements, sometimes these are out of county but we’ve given a commitment to keep children as close as we can or in Wrexham - so there’s an extra cost on that.”

Cllr Pritchard added that the council wants to reduce reliance on agencies and bring staff back ‘in house’, developing their own.

“There’s a cost to it. There’s a personal choice and that’s the difficulty”, he said.

“All the authorities across Wales are struggling to recruit and sometimes retain in social care.

“There’s the pressure of the job and the payments across the border.

“We’re 12 miles from Chester, the M53 and M56, Liverpool and Manchester are only down the road, Cheshire – they pay a lot more in salary than we do.

“There are some authorities paying £6,000 more than what some authorities are paying in North Wales and we can’t compete with that, so we ‘grow our own’, invest in the process and bring our own staff through.”

Cllr Pritchard added: “It’s a very difficult area to recruit to now.

“People’s life choices have changed. People don’t want to work five days a week now, they only want to work two-and-a-half days or three days a week.

“When they’re in an agency it’s their choice and we just have to live with that. Things have changed and I think that’s to the detriment of local authorities.”

The Leader: Cllr Mark PritchardCllr Mark Pritchard (Image: Wrexham Council)

The council’s chief executive Ian Bancroft is more optimistic about the future staffing of a service the council is duty bound to provide.

“Agency pay rates are increasing”, he said.

“There’s been work done nationally to try to get an agreement that we try and keep agency rates which mean that difference (in pay) isn’t too great.

“We’ve done lots of work in social care around increasing pay rates, growing our own and making sure we retain staff.

“We are beginning to see now in the first three months of this financial year a number of people moving across from agency work into permanent posts.

“We’re starting to see that shift. Maybe people are deciding they would prefer the security, and also the difference between agency and permanent isn’t as great as it was.”

Mr Bancroft pointed to the newly-refurbished Crown Buildings as an attractive environment to work in, adding that authorities across the UK struggling to recruit to the sector.

But Cllr Pritchard spelled out the importance of staffing the service despite the cost.

“It’s market led”, he said.

“Where there’s a shortfall in resources those staff become a premium and then you have to pay the going rate and that’s what we have to do.

“We have a statutory duty to deliver this service. If we don’t, we’re in trouble.

“It’s the same with the bin collections. If there’s people on the sick, they don’t come into work, we have to bring in agency staff that day to complement the numbers to collect all the bins.

“It’s not ideal, the same with teachers and teaching assistants but that’s the world we live in now unfortunately.

“A lot of people I know in the professional world only work three or four days a week now, they don’t want to work five days so they go to the agency because they can have that luxury.”

Recently the council has been able to bring more environment staff brought back in-house, meaning less reliance on agency staff. Increases in fuel and energy prices, school transport, and price increases caused by the cost-of-living are all having a financial impact.

Cllr Pritchard said: “It’s been a very difficult year for all the authorities across Wales, but I’m really pleased with where we are in Wrexham on the budget.

“There is pressure in the statutory services, tremendous pressures; adult social care, children’s services, transport, environment department – they’re all frontline services.

“Budgets are getting more difficult every year.

“We’re hoping Welsh Government will be sympathetic this year and give us a bigger slice of the cake when they allocate the budgets and that process has already started.”

The executive board meets on Tuesday (June 13).