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Departments told to ‘get a grip’ on temporary staffing spend

All government departments are required to immediately adopt a new standard for agreements with temporary staff and consultants and produce five-year workforce plans by the end of the year in order to “get a grip” on out-of-control employment spending.

A Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report, published today, warns that despite peaking in 2009-2010, departments’ overall spending on temporary staff has increased by 90% since 2011-12.

Data on temporary staff is poor, but the total cost was estimated to be between £679m and £775m in 2014-15, with temporary staff being paid up to twice as much as permanent staff despite the fact that many of them had similar skills to staff already in place.

PAC has called on government departments to better manage their spending on temporary staff. Meg Hillier MP, chair of the committee, said: “Public services are under huge pressure from budget cuts yet taxpayers' money continues to be wasted because of poor workforce planning.

“Funds that could be spent on services are instead going to pay costly and avoidable bills for staffing. This is simply not good enough.

“There is a place for buying in expert advice and using temporary staff if there is a skills gap but departments first need to be sure they do not have access to these skills in-house. Getting this wrong costs the taxpayer dear.

“The government needs to get a grip, identify where skills are lacking in-house and put a proper plan in place to deliver those skills through the recruitment and development of high quality, permanent staff.

“The Cabinet Office has a key role to play in this and we will expect to see a greater clarity of purpose when we hold officials to account for their progress in the year ahead.”

The timetable set out by the PAC is:

  • April 2016: all departments should use the Crown Commercial Services (CCS) agreements as the default model for agreements with temporary staff and consultants, except in rare cases such as when they are hiring specialists.
  • Autumn 2016: all departments should have established regular reviews of the need for temporary staff across their whole group, the time in post and the progress made in filling more of these posts with permanent staff.
  • December 2016: all departments should produce a strategic workforce plan that covers their entire group for the next five years, identifying expected ‘skills gaps’ and other resource needs and how they will be filled, including by consultants and temporary staff.
  • March 2017: the Cabinet Office should update the PAC on their progress, including any departments still outstanding.

The committee also said that departments should increase outsourcing to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and do more to ensure temporary staff pay the correct tax.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said the growth in temporary staffing was due to “arbitrary cuts based on political choice, not necessity”.

The latest Job Vacancies Index also shows temporary vacancies in the public sector are increasing but permanent vacancies are decreasing.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said: “This government is scrutinising spend like never before. We've stamped out excessive spending on consultants and put in place stringent spending controls. The total spend on consultants is still less than half of that in 2009-10.”


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