Recruiting care staff “a struggle” and an ongoing concern in Bedford

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Recruiting care staff is “a struggle” admitted a council chief – but the council is working on ways to attract and retain more people to the sector.

The Adult Services Overview & Scrutiny Committee was told at an informal meeting on Tuesday (18 January), that recruitment and staff retention in the care sector is an ongoing concern.

Kate Walker, director of adult services said: “We do have a fragile care market already where nationally and locally there is a struggle to recruit.

“We are working on campaigns to do all we can to attract more people to the sector.”

The committee was told that Adult Services met with a range of providers to discuss how to attract new carers, work to the national policy, and look at career progression.

“There are some pointers with the workforce grant, which is also ring-fenced for this purpose to support the sector to recruit and retain the existing pool of staff,” Ms Walker added.

Cllr Dean Crofts (LibDems, Kingsbrook Ward) wanted more information on the workforce grant.

“Does that money have to be spent by the end of March, does it continue next year, or is it yearly funding that’s guaranteed,” he asked

“Because I’ve read somewhere that you can use it for staff pay rises, but if we’re not going to get it every year we can’t use it for staff pay rises

“If we’re not going to get it in the next financial year, we can’t reduce people’s pay. It’s harder to reduce people’s pay than it is to increase it.

“So how does that workforce grant help us recruit and retain new care workers?”

Ms Walker replied: “The workforce grant came in two tranches and we’re working towards the second tranche now.

“The main focus of the workforce grant has been, and trance one definitely, around retention of existing staff, to contain the staff that we have across the sector.

“But there are areas that can be considered with the provider market about what will help to set up systems to help with recruitment beyond March, but the money that’s allocated has to be spent by March and it’s non-recurring.

Councillor Croft said: “It doesn’t help us sustain salary increases beyond the first of April this year to retain staff after that.”

Ms Walker said: “If you think about the very difficult Christmas we’ve just had in terms of the golden handshakes that were being given by Amazon and the retail market, we really have to do something to support the workforce to keep them.”

“So, have we been able to give, for example, bonuses to our existing staff because of that Amazon thing that happened in the private sector,” councillor Croft asked.

Ms Walker said: “We’ve paid one amount already of £50 per employee, but we are negotiating and discussing with the care sector the second tranche.

“This is in line with every local authority because it’s passported funding and for retention purposes.

“It does include private care homes and services such as domiciliary care,” she added.

John Wright, chair of Healthwatch Bedford Borough said: “Bearing in mind in residential care, a large portion of costs are in employee costs.

“This call to increase pay for employees, of course, everybody would like to see people paid really well, but nonetheless, that will increase the costs of private providers as it will your provision as well.

“Therefore people who are not publicly funded in residential care will have to pay even more for their care, does that concern you as the director of social services that maybe some people are going to be priced out of residential care?”

Ms Walker said: “This is something that’s separate from the workforce grant, this is part of a longer piece of work called market sustainability and fair cost of care.

“This is a national piece of work that every local authority will be engaging in and that’s for exactly the reasons you mentioned.

“This is a piece of work that we have to move on by September as part of a three-year plan.

“So there’s a very big piece of work that will be required by every local authority area to consider some of those points and that will be nationally driven.”

Mr Wright added: “It’s clearly a tricky issue for private providers.”

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter

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