Scottish Government temporary worker bill spirals during Covid-19 to more than £40m amid value-for-money concerns

Concerns over a potential “value-for-money” crisis at the heart of the Scottish Government has been raised after it was revealed spending on temporary workers within the Scottish Government rocketed to more than £40 million last year.

The bill is almost 40 times higher than the equivalent expenditure at the start of the last decade.

The Scotsman can reveal spending on temporary workers who are recruited through recruitment areas has cost the Scottish Government more than £172m since 2011/12, with almost a quarter of that coming in the 2020/21 financial year.

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The government blamed the significant rise in spending in this area on the Covid pandemic and the requirement for additional staff as taxation and social security powers were handed to the Scottish Parliament following the independence referendum in 2014.

The spending on temporary staff at the Scottish Government has spiralled in the last decade.

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The rocketing spending has led to concerns around whether the Scottish Government is getting value for money, amid calls for more transparency around the figures.

The Scottish Government said costs were expected to drop significantly this year after reaching a record high last year.

Figures obtained through Freedom of Information legislation show that in 2011/12, the spending on temporary workers was at its lowest since the SNP won their majority in 2011, with costs equalling £1.34m.

This spending later ballooned under the SNP governments led by Nicola Sturgeon, rising to £13m in 2017/18, before jumping to £21m in 2018/19, £30m in 2019/20 and more than £40m last year.

For the current financial year, the Scottish Government has already spend £13.6m on temporary staff, more than in the entirety of 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2017/18.

The high spending has led to concerns around value for money, with the Scottish Conservatives’ constitution spokesperson Donald Cameron saying administration costs at the Scottish Government have “spiralled out of control”.

He said: “The Scottish taxpayer deserves an explanation of why and how the annual budget for temporary staff has been allowed to soar from £1.5m to an astronomical £40m in the space of a decade.

“The SNP must be open and transparent if they are to justify these costs.

“Temporary workers have provided an invaluable service adapting to different roles during the pandemic, but there are serious questions as to whether these inflated agency costs show proper value for money.”

Scottish Labour’s finance spokesperson Daniel Johnson echoed the concerns, saying: “These spiralling costs raise real questions for the SNP.

“When businesses are on the brink and our NHS is in crisis we need to have confidence that every penny of public money is being spent wisely.

“Burning through millions of pounds a year on temps and recruitment won’t fill anyone with confidence that things are running smoothly in the Scottish Government.”

It is not known which civil service directorates take advantage of temporary workers the most, with the Scottish Government stating it was not possible to break down the expenditure.

However, official workforce statistics from the Scottish Government show the number of consultants employed have almost doubled from 44 in March 2012 to 78 in June 2021.

The number of contractors has risen eight-fold over the same period, with the government employed 845 as of June 2021, up from just 75 in early 2012.

Temporary agency workers are also more likely to be used by the government than at the start of the decade, with the number more than doubling from 136 to 309.

The overall total of “contingent” workers has risen from 646 to 1,857, the statistics state.

The Scotsman can also reveal the cost of using external recruitment agencies, which quadrupled during the pandemic.

Costs in 2011 had reached a high of nearly £70,000 before dropping to zero until 2015, when the government spent £32,000 on recruitment agencies.

In the last year before the pandemic, the government spent just under £30,000 on these agencies, but that almost quadrupled to almost £110,000 in 2020.

The total cost of agencies in 2021 to date, which rose further to almost £130,000, is more than a quarter of the total cost on these agencies since 2010.

Responding, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “During the last decade there has been a significant transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament in areas such as taxation and social security, which has inevitably led to increases in staff numbers.

"In addition, the challenges of the pandemic last year led to significant short-term demands placed on staffing resources. As such, we expect the expenditure on temporary workers to decline significantly this year compared to their peak last year.

“While we continue to recruit permanent roles externally, employing temporary and agency workers, where appropriate, provides the flexibility required to meet immediate business and skills needs.”

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