SOCIAL workers are being offered a "bribe" of £5000 each in a desperate effort to persuade them to move to Surrey.

Those attracted by the handout pocket a signing on fee of £2000 and a further £1500 a year until April 2004.

So far 39 social workers have accepted the county council's "golden hello", seven of them recruited from overseas.

Coun. David Munro, adult services executive member, said the scheme had been introduced to boost the recruitment and retention of staff.

In particular the county needs to recruit more care workers and child services staff, where there are significant vacancies.

"Thanks to the ‘golden hello' we are having some success," Coun Munro continued. "But we are not out of the woods yet."

He did not believe the handout was an extortionate amount in view of the high cost of living in the county.

As far as he knew the recipients used the money to help fund a deposit on a home or to pay off student loans.

"I'm certain they spend it on essential items rather than fritter it away," he continued.

Coun. Munro added that he had not received any reports that existing staff were disgruntled at missing out on the extra cash.

He believed they welcomed the recruits because it eased the work burden caused by staff shortages.

Across the border in Hampshire there is an equally desperate search for social workers.

But the county council's efforts are being hampered because of Surrey's generosity.

"We have introduced a retention package but it is not as good as Surrey's," Ed Thomson, of Hampshire Social Services, told a meeting of the West Surrey and North East Hampshire Community Health Council.

He added, however, that recruits were still attracted to Hampshire because of its high reputation for training.