THE Isle of Wight Council has spent almost £1.9 million ­on social care agency staff this year — more than double last year's figure.

Agency staff are paid almost £40 an hour, compared to an average of around £15 for permanent social workers.

They are often used to cover maternity and sick leave, but some are used by the Isle of Wight Council to cover vacant full-time positions which prove difficult to fill.

The council said the use of agency staff was a temporary solution to ensure it could deliver care and support services.

Nineteen agency staff were working in social care for the council as of May 20, 2019 ­— 12 in adult social care and seven in children's services.

Freedom of Information requests revealed the total spend by the council on agency social workers during the 2018/19 financial year was £1,877,196 ­— up from £772,549 in 2017/18.­

It included £1,396,625 on adult social work staff and £480,571 on children's social work staff and reconciles to SAP.

Recruitment for permanent positions has proved difficult for the council, and relocation packages are offered in some cases as an incentive.

When relocation is offered for posts considered difficult to fill, staff can claim up to £8,000 worth of expenses.

In 2017/18, one in seven hours worked in social care were by agency staff ­— 17,387 agency staff hours and 98,979 permanent staff hours were worked.

A third of the agency staff hours worked were to cover permanent staff vacancies, rather than maternity or sick leave.

On average, agency staff normally stayed in the service for 22 to 26 weeks.

A council spokesperson said: “The recent increased reliance on support from agency workers has been necessary to enable the council’s adult social care and housing needs department to ensure the care and support needs of those we serve are identified and met.

"Using agency support is a temporary solution whilst action is taken to provide more sustainable arrangements.

"Adult social care has spent considerably more in 2018/19 on social workers to support mental health services.

“In recent months we have refreshed our recruitment campaigns and sought to attract permanent staff to existing vacancies.

"We have undertaken a full service redesign to utilise resources to the best end and to mitigate the need for agency workers to be used.

“The offering of relocation packages is considered on a case by case basis as part of every recruitment decision.”