06 July 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor
The GMB union has called on local authorities to curb spending on agency and temporary staff.
Some councils are using external procurement specialists to tackle the problem, which is a "tremendous irony", according to Justin Bowden, GMB senior organiser for public services.
"Councils need to get their act together over the purchase of agency workers. They need to explore whether it's necessary and when it is, get value for money."
He said councils should be developing purchasing expertise in-house, but he conceded that where consultants had been used they have "paid for themselves".
The call from the union follows its discovery that local authorities in the UK spend more than £1.13 billion on temporary and agency staff every year.
Of the 353 councils that replied to the GMB's request for details under the Freedom of Information Act, it found Birmingham spends the most with its bill totalling £51.5 million.
Bowden said on average councils pay £200 more per person per week than they would if that staff member was permanent.
A Newham Council spokesperson said: "We review our use of agency staff and established a managed agency contract (MAST) over a year ago. It led to the council spending £2 million less than it otherwise would have done, through a reduction in the mark-up by the agencies."
Last month, Gordon Samet, head of national contracts at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said there were vast savings to be made on consultants, specialist contractors and temporary staff.
At the Procurement Solutions for the Public Sector event in London, Samet said a Defra project defined all four roles and calculated a standard payment for them. He anticipates £21 million in savings.
OGCbuying.solutions has launched a framework covering specialist contractors, which it said reduces the cost by an average of 24 per cent.