Glasgow relieves managers of desk duty and sends them to front line

In recent years Scottish local authorities have adopted innovative
approaches to combat the mounting staffing crisis in their social
work departments.

Councils are frantically competing for a steadily diminishing
number of recruits and are working hard to attract them. Among the
enticements are £5,000 golden hellos from North Lanarkshire
Council, a 7.5 per cent pay rise for social workers at East
Renfrewshire Council and a pledge by Glasgow to help pay off
student loans for social work graduates.

Yet the crisis persists. An investigation by The Scotsman
showed more than 400 social care posts remained vacant in
Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

A recent report by Audit Scotland revealed that nearly half of
Scotland’s young offender cases had not been allocated to a social
worker. And, according to the trade union Unison, staffing
shortfalls in child protection are denying adequate protection to
hundreds of children on the at-risk register.

It is against this backdrop that Glasgow Council has announced what
could be the most radical of all the recent approaches to social
care staffing. Plans due to be discussed by councillors on 18
November could result in more than 100 desk-bound social services
managers being sent back to the front line. They will take on case
work and manage restructured practice teams of social workers
supported by a new breed of “para-professional” (to replace the
role of assistant social worker). The aim is to bring the
authority’s most experienced social workers back into direct
contact with clients, while simultaneously bulking the workforce
with unqualified staff trained to take on some tasks normally
undertaken by social workers.

More than 280 practice teams will be set up. Each will be managed
by a practice team leader, who will take direct responsibility for
the toughest cases and manage the small teams of two or three
social workers and para-professionals. This will replace the system
in which a senior social worker manages a team without undertaking
any fieldwork. Practice team leaders will be able to earn up to
£33,700 a year compared with the top line for senior social
workers of just under £28,000.

The post of social work assistant will be replaced with a new
para-professional grade of social care worker. This position will
take over 400 unqualified staff and create a further 98 posts
through recruitment. The salary for the new position will reach up
to £21,500, compared with the current £19,000 for social
work assistants.

The scheme, which could by running by next April, will cost the
council about £2m in extra wages and training.

Glasgow’s director of social work, David Comley, says the move will
increase the department’s caseload capacity by 30 per cent.

“The stimulus for this has been the shortfall in staffing numbers,”
he says. “We are currently running at 30 to 40 per cent vacancies
and, like most authorities, it is our child services that are
particularly hard hit. As a result we are unable to provide
services to a standard that we would like.”

Rather than simply offer greater and greater incentives to attract
staff, Comley believes the proposals will allow Glasgow to
capitalise on the staff it already has.

He says: “We hope we are adding to what we see as an attractive and
stimulating employment package. But our aim has been to avoid the
one-off golden handshake type of incentives that I think leads to
employees simply moving from authority A to B to C. By bringing
back into practice our most experienced social workers and by
creating a new para-professional role to provide greater support,
we are addressing the problem from both ends.”

The new grades will be accompanied by a “commitment to continuing
professional development” that will require staff to undergo
intensive training before taking on new roles, he adds. Over time
the council hopes this commitment to training will allow it to
“grow its own” social workers.

One potential sticking point in the proposals could be the divisive
nature of the new practice team leader post. Although all of the
city’s 112 senior social workers will be assessed for their
suitability to take on the role, those who do not make the grade
will move back to a social worker post. As experienced social
workers they will retain their current salary but a loss in status
is inevitable. This will be heightened by the fact that many of
those now at the social worker level will become eligible for
promotion into the team leader post, in effect leap-frogging their

In theory, all current senior social workers could move into the
new managerial posts, but in practice this is unlikely. If this
leads to resentment and a drop in morale the whole scheme could
backfire, with Glasgow losing some of its most experienced social

According to Ronnie Stevenson, Unison’s social services convenor in
Glasgow, initial staff reaction to the draft proposals has been
cautious. “We’ve had two mass meetings with the members – one for
fieldworkers and one for the clerical positions,” he says. “It’s
fair to say there has been a mixed response. There has been
hostility from those worried about a loss in status. But there’s
also an understanding that something needs to be done about
staffing levels.”

Stevenson emphasises that although guarantees are being made that
no one will lose out financially under the proposals, professional
pride should also be considered. “There are no losers in the
proposals, it’s more a matter of how much you win by. But if that
makes you feel like a loser then that’s important,” he says.

Issues such as accountability and the degree to which unqualified
staff will be expected to take on responsibilities will also need
to be addressed. Stevenson says: “We are reviewing the proposals
with a view to preparing a negotiating brief for consultations with
the management. But there’s a lot of detail we don’t have at the

As the negotiations proceed in Glasgow there is no doubt that other
Scottish local authorities will pay close attention. With social
work recruits becoming an endangered species, it is inevitable that
many authorities now feel they are being pitted against each other.
As one authority’s recruitment drive takes effect, it only adds to
the staffing problems of its neighbours.

Ruth Stark, the Scottish representative of the British Association
of Social Workers, says this competitive approach is doing little
to address the overall staffing crisis with Scotland’s social work

“It’s all part of the piecemeal approach to the recruitment and
retention problem that is taking place in Scotland, authority by
authority,” she says. “What is needed is for the Convention of
Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish executive to review the
career structure of social work.”

Glasgow Council claims its top and bottom approach will, in the
long run, result in more care assistants qualifying as social
workers. This, added to the fact that experienced social workers
will remain in active practice even when they reach managerial
positions, will add to the overall pool of social workers
practising in Scotland.

If true this is to be welcomed, and could set a precedent others
may follow.

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