UK Politics

Reduce £775m bill for temporary Whitehall staff, MPs say

Whitehall sign Image copyright Getty Images

The bill for temporary staff used by the government has nearly doubled in three years, MPs have said.

Whitehall spending on temporary staff rose to £775m in 2014-15, the Public Accounts Committee said.

Chairman Meg Hillier urged ministers to "get a grip" and develop skills among the existing workforce.

The Cabinet Office said it had "stamped out excessive spending" and had more than halved costs from 2009-10, when it peaked at £2.7bn.

'Poor planning'

But Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson said the Cabinet Office's recruitment policy was wasting taxpayers' money,

"We've got a government that claims to spend taxpayers' money wisely but wastes huge amounts of cash on temporary workers, some of whom are paid a thousand pounds a day," said Mr Watson.

"The amount the government spends on short term staff is rising significantly because it isn't recruiting civil servants with the right skills. Poor planning by the cabinet office is costing UK taxpayers dear."

The Public Accounts Committee report also found that 32 people on temporary contracts were paid more than £1,000 a day, although it said that represented a reduction.

Money 'wasted'

The cost of temporary workers was up to between £679m and £775m in 2014-15 - depending on what data was used. This reached up to £1.3bn when coupled with consultants.

The cross-party committee, which scrutinises public spending, said specialist temporary staff often cost twice as much as permanent staff and suggested the government address "the skills gap across government".

The committee said the use of temporary staff was "justified only when it is not feasible for departments to maintain the necessary skills in-house or to borrow those skills from elsewhere within the civil service".

Although spending controls brought in during 2010 had had an effect, spending had been on the rise again since 2011-12, they said.

Central procurement deals were also not used for around half of consultancy and temporary staff assignments, they said.

The committee's Labour chair, Meg Hillier, said public money was being "wasted because of poor workforce planning".

"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.

"Filling permanent roles with temporary staff is short-sighted and does nothing to address underlying skills shortages in the civil service, nor to develop its expertise. When temps leave, valuable experience leaves with them.

"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."

But a Cabinet Office spokesman 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."

He said the department was "actively building" skills but sometimes needed specialist expertise quickly on complex projects.

"But we only do this when the key skills are not readily available within the Civil Service and where it delivers better value for taxpayers," he added.

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