The pandemic has contributed to pushing the bill for temporary staff from just over £420,000 in 2019/20 to nearly £928,000 during the most recent financial year of 2020/21.
A meeting of the full council heard that it was both the short and long-term impact of Covid that had caused the sudden reversal of a previous downward trend in the council’s use of agency recruits. Not only were they needed to cover staff shortages, but also to plug gaps left by vacancies that have become difficult to fill.
The authority currently has 35 agency workers, fulfilling roles in services such as waste collection and the council’s parks and street scene operation.
READ MORE >>> Here's how Preston's Harris Museum plans to attract the best exhibitions when it it reopens in 2024 .
Deputy council leader Martyn Rawlinson, who is also the cabinet member for resources, said that there had been a national shift in the labour market – also influenced by Brexit – which was affecting local authorities across the country.
“There is a current difficulty in appointing to [various] posts. It was initially a white collar problem, but now it’s much wider than that – even the traditional blue collar jobs are more difficult to recruit to.
“Obviously, that really is down to Covid – people changing jobs and not coming back and [also] people working from home. They can work for anyone, anywhere…and go where the money is,” said Cllr Rawlinson, who added that the situation was a concern for the council because “agency workers do cost more”
While the authority is seeking ways to tackle the dearth of recruits and says it remains committed to “retaining and developing” its permanent workforce, it is expecting its annual £442,000 budget for temporary staff to have to increase.
The authority has now entered into a new contract with Matrix SCM to be its “preferred supplier” of agency workers for the next four years, continuing an arrangement dating back to 2013.
The firm will operate as a so-called “neutral vendor”, meaning that it will not provide agency staff directly, but act as a broker between the council and the employment agency managing the supply of such workers.
A report presented to the full council stated that the arrangement – which was approved unanimously – “saves on the administrative processes involved” in hiring temporary staff.
“If we do not have this in place, it will be more expensive and more time-consuming for our officers when finding agency staff,” Cllr Rawlinson said.