Westminster’s temp army costs £21million

A WHOPPING £21million has been spent in the last year by the council on temporary agency staff

Susanna Wilkey

A WHOPPING £21million has been spent in the last year by the council on temporary agency staff.

The workers are employed in clerical posts as well as more specialist jobs with almost £6.7million being spent on admin staff.

The figures were revealed in a report this week which also shows a temporary employee has been working in the transport department for almost eight years.

In the year beginning April 2006, £21.6million was paid by the council to 160 different employment and recruitment agencies.

The huge sum came to light in the same week that an undercover investigation by Britain's biggest trade union found the world of agency work to be "shadowy and insecure".

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A member of Unite spent six weeks working for leading high street employment agencies. He said: "I am a union activist so I thought I knew what to expect in undertaking this work but what I saw shocked and depressed me."

Westminster Council has four temporary staff in its planning and city development department who have been there between four and seven years.

Leader of the Labour Group Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said: "I thought it must be a printing error, but it is true, the Conservatives have been employing someone as a 'temporary' worker for almost eight years and there are four 'temporary' staff in the planning department who have been employed by the council for more than four years.

"None of these jobs require skills that are in short supply. It is a crazy situation.

"The council spends over £21million a year on temporary staff and it looks as if there are considerable savings to be made by making more of these temporary staff full time employees."

The report also admits the council did not have one single contract with the agencies and "the approach to hiring meant that pay rates and fees were frequently above market rates, because the council was not using its combined purchasing power to secure competitive pricing".

Director of HR at the council Graham White said: "In all cases, every effort is made to minimise the use of temporary staff.

"A flexible arrangement is often mutually beneficial for Westminster in order to meet business requirements and for the agency worker, who wants to retain their own flexibility.

"The council, however, cannot comment on the circumstances of individual employees."

Westminster Council now says it has implemented a number of cost-saving measures for the next financial year and that £6millon of the money was not spent on temps.

A spokeswoman said: "Initial findings showed that £21.6million was spent by Westminster Council under the agency category. The council proceeded to carry out further work to understand what was within this category and found some of the money was not spent on temporary agency contractors but on other areas."