Reading Borough Council’s (RBC) record on reducing agency staff was criticised after latest figures suggested the authority will overspend by around £2m this year.

Councillor Rob White, leader of the Reading Green Party, has repeatedly criticised the council’s performance on reducing agency staff, particularly children's social workers.

The council's chief executive promised "winter cheer" in the next quarterly figures, which will cover October - December 2018.

Cllr White said: “It doesn’t look like the council is going anywhere.

“Unsurprisingly, following their failure to meet the previous target, it looks like the council will overspend on agency staff.

“If the council keeps spending at this rate, because it can’t recruit and retain permanent children’s social workers, it will spend around £12 million by the end of the year.

“I keep raising this because it’s an important issue but every time I get reassurances that the council is just about to turn a corner.”

RBC set a target of £10m spending on agency staff for 2018/19 but has spent more than £6.3m in the first six months.

The council also set a target of increasing the percentage of permanent social workers from 65 per cent to 75 per cent but has seen this number fall by eight per cent in the last six months.

Councillor Liz Terry said: “While I respect the opposition member’s right to hold us to account and scrutinise us, I find Cllr White’s comments increasingly disingenuous.

“I do believe that he has been briefed on the increasing performance in terms of recruiting and retaining permanent workers in children’s services. There is lag; it takes time.”

Peter Sloman, chief executive at RBC, said he would send the Green councillor new statistics in the next few weeks which would “provide winter cheer.”

He said spending on social workers is lower than last year and overall spend on agency staff would be down by around 15-20 per cent by the end of the year.

A spokesman for Central and East Berks Unison said: “A year ago in November we were all told that consultancy and agency spend was down.

“By January 2018 it had zoomed up; worse than the year before. Several million out.”