COUNCIL chiefs have defended their decisions to splash the cash on agency staff after a UKIP MEP discovered the authority's latest annual bill added up to £6.5million.

West Midlands Euro MP and Sedgley councillor Bill Etheridge criticised the authority of poor planning and said council bosses needed to shift their priorities after obtaining figures through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request that showed Dudley Council spent more than £6.5m on agency staff (excluding schools) in 2014/15.

The figure was slightly higher in 2013/14 - just over £6.6m - so it has decreased somewhat and the council claims agency staff are needed to fill statutory positions that if left vacant would put the authority in breach of its legal responsibilities.

Cllr Etheridge, however, said: “The fact that Dudley Council is spending millions on temporary and agency staff, when it has announced plans to close Dudley Museum and Art Gallery, shows poor planning and recruitment policies on their part.

“It is clear the whole issue of council staff recruitment policies need to be reviewed to ensure best value for taxpayers who are witnessing savage cuts to their services.”

Councillor Paul Brothwood, UKIP group leader on Dudley Council, was also critical of the amount being spent on agency staff and added: "We should be focussing on cutting fat in the council instead of front line services."

Just a few weeks ago - he slammed the £800-a-day agency costs being paid to keep the authority's interim children's services director Merlin Joseph in post as an "obscene amount of money".

Councillor Judy Foster, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member responsible for human resources, however, said there were numerous "practical business reasons why Dudley Council employs agency and interim staff".

She said: "Reasons include that key positions and statutory posts cannot remain vacant as they would put the authority in breach of its statutory responsibilities and deprive Dudley residents of the important services they need.

"We continue with our efforts to recruit permanent members of staff to these key positions, and if we are unable to find people suitable to fill them permanently they are being filled on a temporary basis while ensuring we get value for money which is why there has been a decrease in the spend for 2014/15.

"We are committed to achieving excellence, it is therefore essential we find the right people for these roles to ensure local residents remain protected, receive the quality of service they deserve and the most vulnerable residents receive the care they need.

"The proposals to move the collections from the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery building to an alternative venue are proposals at this stage, and are the result of the significant reductions in government funding, which people will be consulted on over the next few months.”