The new chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence defends his controversial selection and says it reflects how the organisation is maturing. By Sally Gillen
Allan Bowman’s appointment last month as chair of the Social Care Institute for Excellence was seen by some as a blow to the organisation’s service-user emphasis (Eyebrows raised as institute picks chair , 23 February).
But Bowman, who in April replaces Jane Campbell – arguably the leading voice of the service user movement – says: “I do not think it is a problem and I think my appointment has a lot to do with where Scie is at. It is moving forward into its mature phase.”
He says the issue of whether the organisation’s chair should be a service user “might be a bit distracting”.
He adds: “More important is looking at making sure service users’ work and contribution are not being diminished.”
Campbell, Scie’s chair since its inception in 2001, said she had developed the organisation as much as she could and felt she should be succeeded by someone with the skills to expand the institute.
Bowman’s 30-year background in social care, including management roles at Essex, Fife and Brighton and Hove councils, make him a well-qualified choice.
As well as his experience in social care, his most recent job – head of programmes at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister’s neighbourhood renewal unit – has given him a different take on the ways that service users perceive services.
It has also shown him that, increasingly, people are rejecting services that are provided in favour of setting up their own.
Visiting England’s most deprived neighbourhoods and helping them spend regeneration cash on services they had designed to fit their needs, Bowman heard many complaints about what was offered by statutory agencies.
He says: “I found there was a lot of dissatisfaction with social care and social services and in some places they were starting to provide their own services. People are beginning to set up basic social care services, such as home care and day centres, within their communities. There will be more of that.”
Pointing to Scie’s role as a disseminator of knowledge on social care, he adds that it is vital that new providers adopt best practice.
He also believes that a culture of looking at what works best needs to be developed. “It is not like the medical profession, which focuses on research and evaluation,” he says. “Admittedly, social care is not an exact science but we do need to build confidence in professionals.”
He says he wants Scie to make it easier for professionals and service users to have access to what others are doing around the country, building on his experience at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
He adds: “Communication is important. When I was at the ODPM we had something called renewal.net, so people could log on and look at research and good practice around the country. There will be a Scie.net so people can do the same for social care. It is a very effective medium and most people have a computer now.”
Certainly more ways of disseminating best practice are likely to be welcomed. Scie has been criticised as being too remote, accessible only to select groups such as academics.
Bowman acknowledges that more needs to be done to raise the profile of Scie, saying the organisation has already started work in this area by holding roadshows around the country.
“It’s not a case of us saying ‘here’s what we can offer you’ but more asking what is it we could do for you. Scie is grounded in reality.”
Bowman will also focus on making sure social care is high on the government’s agenda, adding: “With things like the Respect agenda and antisocial behaviour orders, social care has a wealth of experience in dealing with those issues.”