2020 vision

“I am on an early, and my live-in customer Mary wakes me up with a
cup of tea and my Atkins breakfast platter at 7am.

Mary moved in three years ago, after the care and surveillance
services’ customer revolution of Christmas 2016. The customers,
once known as “service users”, were angry about being listened to
but not heard, and about only having contact with their designated
multi-agency team member via text phone and video link, albeit
24-hours a day.

The whole thing came to a head after the north east England team
“lost” 113 older people during a power cut. Pressure groups camped
outside Westminster until parliament rushed through legislation
requiring all care and surveillance officers to return to
face-to-face consultations and sit on weekly “Customer is Always
Right” forums.

From there, the customer-involvement agenda snowballed. The
government offered to contribute to care and surveillance officers’
mortgages if they agreed to invite customers to share their homes.
For the politicians, it was a win-win situation. They stood to
improve the financial position of public sector workers without
increasing their salary, while tackling customer housing waiting

But the scheme has benefited officers and customers too. Customers
get one-to-one access to their designated worker, and officers get
help with their mortgage repayments, which here in the south are an
average of £4,000 a month.

And that’s how Mary came to live with me, after she was released
from the anti-depressant addict programme.

After breakfast, while Mary gets stuck into the cleaning, I throw
on my perfectly pressed multi-agency team uniform and log on to my
computer for the daily virtual team meeting. The aim is to check-in
for time-sheet purposes, and to discuss and distribute any
outstanding customer case referrals from the previous shift.

The team desk rota allows me to go into the care and surveillance
office on the third Monday of each month. But I always volunteer
for any cancellation slots too as I prefer working from the office
whenever possible as it is my only chance to catch up with
colleagues during office hours.

Whether in my home or the office, my working day revolves around
inputting information into the relevant computer systems, liaising
with “high risk” customers via video link and weekly meetings, and
e-mailing lawyers at head office as per my duties under the Local
Authority Compensation Claims Reduction Act 2015.

Having fought for years for a paperless office, now I have one I
often struggle to see the benefit. I spend hours typing the same
customer case notes into slightly different forms on a range of
systems so that all members of our multi-agency team have access to
the same information.

While I understand the importance of sharing information, I fail to
see why the former police officers, probation workers, mental
health nurses, youth workers, teachers, therapists, psychiatrists
and social workers who are now part of the same care and
surveillance team still have to use separate, profession-specific
electronic case note forms on incompatible systems.

Apparently, the problem dates back more than 15 years to a battle
between the then home secretary David Blunkett and the first
children’s minister Margaret Hodge over who should have ultimate
responsibility for child welfare.

The issue was still not resolved when Hodge was forced out of
office to re-emerge as Sure Start tsar. The number of forms
multiplied unchecked as, feeling threatened, various professions
began to erect new territorial barriers around their work with

A contract for developing a pan-professional network of electronic
forms on a single system was awarded to one of the government’s
favourite IT firms. But the company got no further than a
multi-agency template for children’s personal details, which then
directed users back to profession-specific forms on incompatible

During legally enforced screen breaks, when my computers turn
themselves off for 15 minutes, I flick through job advertisements
on BBC 36, hopeful of finding one that involves more colleague
contact and fewer machines. These searches are rarely fruitful.
They often only throw up antisocial behaviour monitoring posts or
older people’s services posts on the Isle of Taransay – otherwise
known as Nass Island.

Under the short-lived Conservative government between 2009 and
2011, the former National Asylum Support Service used to place
asylum-seeking families on the island while their claims were being
processed. But when Labour was re-elected on the promise of
addressing the UK’s ageing population problem, it returned the
asylum seekers to the mainland with work visas, and developed the
island into what is now the world’s largest retirement

At some point during each afternoon, my supervisor will log-on to
my system to give me a running total on my monthly spend, and run
through any issues about customer cases currently on my database.

As my legal adviser, she will also check whether I have made any
service refusals, child removal applications, or incarceration
referrals in the past 24 hours so she can check every decision is
watertight against future compensation claims.

I hand over to the second-shift at 4pm and log off at 4.15pm.
Overtime was banned during the local government pay dispute five
years ago when the unions found that care and surveillance officers
across the UK were owed years in time-off-in-lieu, which they had
been unable to take.

Most days, I go straight from logging off to the kitchen for my
daily 45-minute one-to-one session with Mary.

I meet colleagues for dinner most Thursdays. We always go to the
same place – the last remaining smoke-free bar in town after the
public smoking bans were repealed two years ago, following research
led by the former Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke showing that
smoking can reduce the risk of obesity.

We often reminisce about the good old days of case conferences and
office-based team meetings. But I wonder whether that’s really just
the wine talking, as I don’t remember us being keen on either at
the time.

Currently, I’m also doing a 10-week communication training evening
course, paid for by work and based at the local extended school. We
spent the first three weeks focusing on understanding legal and
technical jargon to help us in our contact with lawyers and IT
consultants at head office. Next week we’re moving on to effective
ways of saying “no” to customers.

Apart from Thursdays, I’m in bed by 10pm with a good book. Normally
I read novels, but at the moment I’m reading a book on plain
English to help with my course. It’s written by the former US
secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, who makes some interesting
observations about the importance of distinguishing between what we
know and what we don’t know before trying to communicate with

Mary pops in and turns my light out at 11pm, aware that I need my
sleep as I’m likely to be disturbed during the night by a customer
or a team member who has misunderstood the 24-hour rota and called
me instead of the third-shift officer. I end most days forwarding
text messages to him in my sleep so he can deal with the latest
crises – at least until he hands back to me at 8am anyway.”

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