SOCIAL workers are being offered a ‘special’ bonus of £5,000 by Cumbria County Council - just to move to the county.
The inducement is being advertised despite the cash-strapped authority recently rubber-stamping £24 million in cuts.
The Labour-Lib Dem run council agreed massive savings earlier this month to balance its budget - including 600 redundancies from its 8,000-strong workforce.
But it is now hoping to lure experienced social workers to the county with financial incentives.
It said on social media: “Cumbria needs experienced social workers. Great location package and up to £5K starter bonus!”
It hopes to recruit 10 experienced social workers after struggling to fill vacancies in Whitehaven and Workington.
Starting salaries range from £28,127 a year and up to £32,072.
Team leaders would be paid a special bonus of £5,000 and social workers £4,000 - once they had been in post for three months and repayable if they leave within three years.
Successful applicants would also be offered a ‘generous’ relocation package.
The council tells prospective staff: “Moving house can be expensive and stressful especially if you are starting a new job. In order to make this a little bit easier we offer a generous relocation package. These are allowances for lodging, storage, removal, settling in allowance and money available to cover legal fees.”
It also promises 30 days annual leave after four years service, a proportion of salary being tax-free to cover childcare costs or childcare vouchers worth around £1,196-a-year, and a doubling of pension contributions.
The council defended the move by saying its safeguarding of children service has twice been found inadequate by Ofsted inspectors and must improve.
Kieran Barr, a council spokesman, said: "People need to understand the council’s budget is reducing but it also has priorities and in some areas the budget is not reduced. It has to decide priorities and one of its top priorities is protecting vulnerable children. In light of the Ofsted, that has never been more acute.”
Of recruitment problems, he added: “The reality for West Cumbria in national terms is that it is seen by some people as being isolated - Whitehaven and Workington don’t have the attraction to some of the more salubrious parts of Cumbria, like Keswick.”
He said despite best efforts, the authority had not been able to attract suitably experienced staff.
"This appointment bonus initiative is an attempt to address a specific recruitment problem, other councils in England, for example Norfolk, have taken similar approaches for hard to recruit to areas," said Mr Barr.
But Coun James Airey, leader of the Conservative opposition said: “I think it’s wrong. They do have a recruitment problem with social workers and no-one wants vulnerable children at risk, but throwing money at it is not the solution.
"They have to look at it a bit closer and it just shows there’s still money sloshing about in the council despite £24 million of cuts. I happen to think Cumbria is a fantastic place to come and work and live - we have wonderful scenery and that should be encouragement enough without offering cash bribes to people.
He added: “They have a woeful track record on retaining social workers - so my worry is they get this money then leave. They pay the going rate and staff must be leaving for a reason. They need to tackle that.”