The cash-strapped county council has forked out nearly £40 million on temporary social work staff over the past five years as it struggles to hire permanent workers.

Figures unearthed following a Free Press investigation show Bucks County Council spent a total of £39,202,109 on agency staff from 2014 to 2018.

However, the figures are declining – as £5,783,829 was spent on agency staff in 2018 compared with £7,542,947 in 2018.

Last year BCC hired an average of 107 agency social work staff per month, compared with an average of 145 per month in 2014.

Not all the agency staff hired within the social services are qualified social workers – however BCC was unable to give a breakdown of specific job titles.

The news comes after it was claimed in February that social workers were being “strongly encouraged” to leave their roles at BCC’s failing children’s services, despite major staff shortages.

Ofsted’s latest monitoring report published in January found there are still inconsistencies within the service – as social workers have been left with large caseloads due to a high turnover of staff.

Inspectors noted that regular staff changes made it “difficult” for children to “build meaningful relationships with social workers”.

According to national reports published this week local authorities spend a total of £335 million on social work agencies in 2017/18 – leading to vulnerable children and families seeing multiple social workers in a single year.

However, cabinet member of children’s services at BCC, Warren Whyte, has defended the spend – stating agency social workers “can be extremely important for the children and adults we serve”.

He added that, as of December 2018, agency staff made up 21 per cent of the children’s social workers and 9.5 per cent of adult social workers.

Cllr Whyte said: “Between 2017 and 2018 we have reduced our spend on agency social workers by nearly £1.8m and in 2018 the amount spent on agency social workers – almost £5.8m – made up only around 2.9% of the combined children’s services and health and wellbeing budgets for 2018/19.

“Recruitment and retention of social workers is a national issue faced by local authorities. This is even more challenging in the south east, partly due to high living costs and a very competitive workforce market.

“We aim to recruit and retain qualified social workers on a permanent basis wherever possible, to reduce turnover of staff and the costs associated with using agency workers.”

The cabinet member added that a number of social workers have been hired through major recruitment drives, while some temporary members of staff have moved on to permanent positions.

He said: “BCC works with neighbouring authorities to agree maximum rates of pay for agency social workers, keeping costs down across the region.

“The majority of our senior leadership teams and heads of service are permanent employees who have been in post for more than a year, creating stability and direction within services.”