MORE than £1.8 million of taxpayers’ money was spent on agency staff during the first three months of the new Somerset West and Taunton Council.

The figure is in addition to the £5.5million that was spent on redundancies with 191 workers laid off at the former Taunton Deane Borough Council and West Somerset Council prior to the merger.

New chief executive James Hassett inherited a staff shortage thanks to the redundancies, which has led to 140 agency staff being employed by the new council between April and the end of July, at a total cost of £1,818,891.

The council says that the agency staff costs per person per month were ‘not unreasonable’.

An SWT spokesperson said: “When broken down into monthly payments these agency staff costs equate to approximately £3.2k per person per month which is not an unreasonable amount.

“Agency staff were employed when the new Council was established following the high number of voluntary redundancies taken during transformation which has been widely reported.

“They have been covering vacant positions and providing extra support to ensure Council services are maintained and delivered to the standard expected.

“We are in the process of recruiting permanent employees. This has been happening for some time and the number of agency staff will drop as the recruitment process progresses.

“We aim to ensure that residents throughout the area have an efficient council delivering the best services going forward.”

Harry Fone, campaign manager for the Taxpayers Alliance said: “These figures are most concerning and suggest a lack of planning by the new council.

“In general merging councils and their resources is a good idea but taxpayers will want to know why their cash has been spent so poorly.

“The council must explain why so many staff were made redundant only for a similar number of agency staff to be hired after the merger. “

Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, a longstanding critic of the decision to join Taunton Deane and West Somerset district councils, said although he was surprised by the total, the new council had inherited a messy situation from the previous leaders.

“Many warned that the costs of merging the two councils would be large, but it seems worse than anyone anticipated,” Mr Liddell-Grainger said.

“This money spent on redundancies and agency staff will mean there is less for other areas of the budget and puts a further strain on finances.

“Getting a grip of costs at the new council is vital. The new chief executive is aware of the problems but it is going to take a long time to sort out.”