Agenda item

Recruitment Challenges in Through Age Wellbeing Services


Councillor Alun Williams (Cabinet Member for Through Age and Wellbeing) presented an update to the Committee on Recruitment and Retention of Social Care Staff. The Council had a legal duty to provide safe statutory services for those most in need within the communities of Ceredigion. Whilst responsibility for this ultimately lied with the Council’s Statutory Director of Social Services (SDSS), there was an organisational responsibility to support the SDSS to ensure these responsibilities were discharged effectively and in a manner that resulted in a safe service.


The risk of not having a safe service would at worst present a risk to life in terms of service users, and significant financial risk and toll on staff capacity should the council be placed into special measures. Whilst agency staff were used within the local authority’s social care structures, where recruitment was challenging, the cost of doing so represented value for money given the safe service that they were critical to maintaining. Agency staff were carefully selected and managed well to ensure the needs of the council and of service users were met. The challenge to recruitment in social care was nationally and was likely to remain so without a significant focus on the issues from Welsh Government.


Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) inspected the local authority’s adults and children’s services in March 2023. Following a robust inspection, an extremely positive report was provided with many examples of the significant good work that took place every day and citing the strong senior leadership that was in place. They also acknowledged areas for improvement that the local authority presented to them and confirmed that there were no areas of no compliance.


The recruitment and retention of an appropriately sized workforce was one of the most significant challenges facing local government and the public sector in general, with increased vacancy rates across all areas. As well as explaining the challenges in detail, the report also captured the ways in which the council was being innovative and creative in attempting to respond to them. The ability to attract and retain talent was critical to maintaining a skilled workforce capable of delivering quality services to the local authority’s communities. The Council employed a workforce of around 3,700 employees, to a fulltime equivalent workforce of around 2,600 employees, largely female based at approximately 66%.


The recruitment and retention in the local authority’s Through Age Wellbeing social care services had proved to be increasingly challenging, especially over the past 18 months, post-Covid period. These services employed a workforce of around 700 employees, a full-time equivalent workforce of 500 and a higher than the corporate average female workforce percentage of 74%. Of these roles, 240 were supporting statutory services and vacancy levels in these roles were currently at 45 (19%), and 21 of these were occupied by agency staff. Of the remaining 460 roles, vacancy levels were at 88 (19%) but only 9 of these were occupied by agency staff, in residential homes and Enablement team.


The agency staff covering statutory services included the eight members of the managed team arrangement through Innovate Services. Their appointment was following a procurement exercise and the contract was awarded on an initial 6-month contract, with the option of extensions of up to 6 months in three-month blocks. Whilst this team was not included in the financial scope of the report, the added value they provided to the organisation and their role in helping to maintain a safe service was clear.


An overview of the following as outlined in the report was provided:

·       Financial considerations

·       Recruitment and retention issues in Social Care

·       Local Government pay

·       Regional picture overview

·       Current position in Ceredigion

·       Recruitment and retention initiatives

·       Using recruitment agencies for permanent recruitment

·       Outreach

·       Current recruitment campaigns

·       Conclusion


The local authority worked collaboratively with other local authorities regionally and nationally. It was highlighted that salaries differed in each local authority and not only were they in competition for staff but agency staff too. There were attempts to limit the fees of agency staff, however, this could lead to the lack of agency staff based in Wales. The Social Care sector was under pressure, similar to the NHS, and an improvement in Social Care would have an impact on the NHS.


Audrey Somerton-Edwards provided a presentation outlining the following trend analysis as they stood on 27.10.2022 and 18.05.2023:

·       Open Cases – Referral Status

·       Open Cases by RAG Amber and Red Status

·       Number of LAC and % with visits in last 12 weeks

·       Number of CPR and % with visits in last 10 days


Members were provided with the opportunity to ask questions which were answered by Officers in attendance and Councillor Alun Williams. The main points raised were as follows:

·       From exploring options, developing a Masters Degree programme in Social Work was the most appropriate course as opposed to an undergraduate course, as this was where all involved felt they could effectively recruit. Work by Aberystwyth University and the local authority with an oversight from Social Care Wales to develop the course was in the early stages but the aim was to replicate the success of the nursing course available at Aberystwyth University.

·       Placements for trainees studying the 3-year Social Work degree through the Open University were arranged by the local authority. Trainees were required to work for the local authority for a minimum of 2 years post-qualification.

·       It was clarified that at no point the service was unsafe during recent challenges. As soon as issues were identified, a strong recommendation was provided by the previous Statutory Director of Social Services to ensure the service remained safe. Without the support of the Innovate Team, the caseload would have been very unmanageable for staff who had remained loyal and committed to the authority.

·       At present, there was no evidence to suggest either way that hybrid working that had been trialled over the past 12 months had an impact on staff’s wellbeing. Staff members working in Triage worked in the office daily, and Social Care staff had utilized the opportunities to work in a hybrid manner. It was acknowledged that a supportive environment, supervision and access to well-being services were important for the staff’s health and well-being.

·       There were challenges in recruiting staff due to competition such as higher salaries offered by other local authorities, but Ceredigion County Council generally had no challenges in retaining staff. Vacancies were usually due to career progression or retirement. Raising the need for a national pay scale across Wales for the Social Care sector with Welsh Government (WG) at any given opportunity was vital along with highlighting that given the financial pressures on local authorities, this should be fully funded by WG.

·       At present, there were 38 agency Social Workers across the local authority (there were 8 Social Workers and 2 Senior Practitioners in Planned Care). Most of the recently qualified Social Workers had opted to work with adults whilst most of the agency staff worked with children given the level of vacancies. Hopefully, the proposed MSc degree would lead to recruitment locally and would strengthen the services.

·       To recruit people to work in the Social Care sector within the local authority, members felt it was important to promote social work positively and the opportunities available across the county. Video clips from employees discussing and promoting their roles and the area had been used in recent recruitment campaigns. As technology and communication evolved, it was important to consider all available options.

·       In response to concerns raised around the language skills of agency staff, it was clarified that some agency staff spoke Welsh. Members felt there could be greater collaboration with academic institutions such as Bangor University, to develop training and work placement with a particular regard to training bilingual Social Workers.

·       An element of using agency staff would always be required in the local authority, but having the balance was key. During the next few years, work on succession planning was important, not only due to vacancies but due to retirement. Members would be updated on this in due course.


Given the recruitment challenges across the local authority as a whole, Councillor Rhodri, Chair of the Corporate Resources Overview and Scrutiny Committee agreed to include this item on the Committee’s forward work plan for consideration. In addition, given his role on the Hywel Dda University Health Board, he was willing to raise matters related to recruitment as required.


Following questions, Committee Members considered the following recommendations:

1.    To note the current position about the important use of agency workers within our social care services.

2.    To note the activity already taking place in responding to the challenge of recruitment in this sector.

3.    To provide feedback and suggestions of any other possible solutions to the recruitment challenge.

4.    To endorse Officers working with partners including HDUHB to explore creative and innovative opportunities to provide longer-term solutions.


Committee Members agreed to recommend that Cabinet:

1.    Committee Members agreed to note recommendation 1 and 2 above,

2.    The Committee supports ongoing discussions with Welsh Government for a fully funded National pay scale for Social Care staff, and,

3.     That the authority considers greater collaboration with academic institutions including Bangor University, to develop training and work placements with a particular regard to training bilingual Social Workers.

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