Almost half the social workers in Bradford are from an agency, as the council has been struggling to recruit and retain full-time staff in recent years.
Bradford Council said its reliance on these workers is one of the “main reasons” for its financial troubles, as the bill is expected to reach £30m this year. That is up from £4.3m in 2018/19.
It comes after the Labour-council warned it may have to make “drastic cuts” to services to balance the books in 2023/24, as it is projecting a £68m overspend.
In a new report, it said the Government should consider a cap on agency fees or an outright ban on agency social workers – similar to the one imposed in Northern Ireland this year.
“In Bradford agency social workers currently make up 47 per cent of the social work workforce. This is problematic both from cost and social care practice perspectives,” it added.
“Northern Ireland has for example recently banned agency social work and offered permanent positions to social workers instead.”
It comes as the council has also seen the cost of providing children with accommodation at privately-run care homes soar in recent years.
The average cost is now £312,000 per child per year and the council is currently paying for almost 200 children to stay in privately-run homes. That means the total could surpass £60m for the year.
There are now more than 82,000 children in care in England and a shortage of places has driven up prices and profits for private providers, which own more than 80 per cent of the country’s 2,208 homes.
Analysis by the Local Government Association shows that councils paid the 20 largest private providers in England £1.63bn last year and they kept almost 20 per cent – £310m – as profit.
Bradford Council’s children’s services department was rated inadequate by Ofsted eight times over five years and a shortage of full-time social workers, who can see children regularly and form relationships, was seen as the main issue preventing improvements from being made.
The department was also heavily criticised for being over reliant on agency social workers when opportunities to save toddler Star Hobson were missed.
The 16-month-old was referred to social services five times, before she was murdered by her mother’s partner in September 2020, and a review of the case found one agency social worker failed to complete an important assessment.
The Government stripped the council over control of the department in January this year, after commissioner Steve Walker found it does not have the capacity to make the changes that are needed.
A not-for-profit trust, which is owned and funded by the council, took charge of children’s services in April and Ofsted said “there have been some improvements”.
In a report, the watchdog said the recruitment and retention of full-time social workers “remains a priority” as that will “ provide stability in the workforce and consistency for families”.