Leeds Council taking workload complaints from more than 80 social workers 'extremely seriously’

Senior Leeds councillors say they’re taking concerns raised by more than 80 social workers over their workloads “extremely seriously”.

By David Spereall
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 5:00 pm

The local authority confirmed that trade union UNISON has submitted a formal grievance about caseloads in a report published on Wednesday, having previously declined to comment, citing “confidential HR matters”.

It’s emerged the grievance was lodged in April, a month before Ofsted declared Leeds’ children’s services to be ‘outstanding’.

The council says it’s holding weekly meetings to assess staff workloads, has ramped up its approach to recruitment and retention and is boosting training to tackle the problem.

More than 80 social workers have lodged a grievance with the council

Opposition councillors, however, have been critical of the authority’s Labour leadership for a “lack of transparency” over the issues raised.

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Speaking at a meeting of the city council’s executive board on Wednesday, Councillor Fiona Venner, who is the portfolio holder for children and families, said: “We’re taking the concerns of our staff extremely seriously

“I’m not saying this in any way to minimise the grievance or the concerns people have, but we have 500 social workers across our services, so the number of staff that have raised a grievance accounts for about 16 per cent of our workforce, which is hugely significant, but isn’t the majority of our staff.

“Nevertheless, I’ve outlined in detail the huge challenges we’re facing and what we’re doing to address those and the ways we’re supporting our staff in this very challenging context.

“I absolutely want to stress my appreciation for our staff who’ve faced the most extraordinary challenges over the last few years and continue to provide outstanding, compassionate and effective services to our families.”

On Wednesday it emerged that average caseloads for a Leeds social worker are just over 20, against a regional benchmark of around 18.

Senior figures at the council have again stressed that many of the issues they’re facing are being faced by children’s services across the UK, after it was revealed last week that almost 50 social workers had left the Leeds department this year.

Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan said he wanted to see “parity” between funding for social work and the NHS.

But the Tories’ deputy group leader Alan Lamb claimed his party colleagues had been wrongly criticised for raising the issue at a full council meeting last week.

He added: “This paper shows they were right to do so.

“This grievance was received in April, and the first I knew of it as scrutiny chair (of the council’s children and families board) was in July.

“Members raised it last week because they felt this was the only way they felt they could get this onto the agenda.

“When good people with good intentions aren’t open and don’t share, history has shown it potentially leaves a situation where bad people do bad things to children.”

Councillor Venner responded: “We would not have got an ‘outstanding’ judgement from Ofsted if we weren’t open and self reflective.

“The first question inspectors asked me, was “What do you think we’ll find?” and I said, “Nothing we don’t already know about.”

“We were really open about the caseload challenges and the context we’re in.”