‘It’s a leap from being all about money to being about delivery’

Julia Ross is determined to apply the lessons learned from the 1990s community care reforms to empower social care staff and users, reports Maria Ahmed

Goodbye, bureaucracy. That was Julia Ross’s reassuring message about the work of the Care Services Improvement Partnership (CSIP) to last week’s Association of Directors of Social Services spring seminar.

The former social services director at Barking and Dagenham Council, east London, is heading CSIP’s national social care programme, which is designed to improve adults’ services and help implement the health and social care white paper.

Ross describes CSIP as the “delivery arm” of the Department of Health, linking policy and resources to councils while reducing rather than increasing bureaucracy.

She says: “CSIP is distinct from other agencies like the Commission for Social Care Inspection because we don’t performance-manage and monitor – we’re here to help. We’re about service improvement.”

The social care programme focuses on eight regional development centres, each with its own director. Ross is also appointing a team of nine adult social care “change agents” over the eight regions.

CSIP’s social care programme will work in partnership with other improvement agencies, including local government body the Improvement and Development Agency and the Social Care Institute for Excellence. The challenge of implementing the white paper – with its emphasis on putting communities and service users at the heart of service delivery – will be central to the programme’s aims.

Julia Ross captionRoss is determined to apply the lessons learned from the NHS and Community Care Act 1990. She says: “The government then didn’t invest in front-line resources and didn’t get a workforce able to deliver. This could have been an opportunity to create individual budgets and flexible care management. The white paper presents a chance to pick this up and do it better this time by creating integrated teams.”

Echoing care services minister Liam Byrne, she says the DH will examine the Wanless review on older people’s social care (news, page 6, 30 March), which called for a significant increase in investment.

But Ross says the social care programme is less about spending “new” money than working with agencies to use existing money effectively.

This philosophy is exemplified by the aptly named Getting to Grips with the Money initiative launched by CSIP this week, which aims to address spending pressures in learning difficulties services.

The three-year scheme will help councils “contain” growth in spending by shifting resources from more traditional forms of institutional care and give users more control of the services they receive.

Funding of 150,000 includes resources from the DH’s Care Services Efficiency Delivery (CSED) efficiency programme set up in 2004. Significantly, CSED has since moved from the DH’s commercial directorate to become part of the social care programme at CSIP.

“This is a huge leap from being ‘all about money’ to being all about improving service delivery, as well as achieving some of those efficiencies we know are there,” Ross says.

She hopes her role and the social care programme will drive forward the profile of social care in the DH, and says she sees her background as a former social worker and social services director as an advantage.

“I don’t feel like a pure civil servant because I reach in and out of the department, making connections. By comparison, it’s hard for a departmental person born and bred to understand how things fit together on the ground,” she says.

Ross supports Kathryn Hudson, the DH’s national director for social care and another former social services director, and sees her on a regular basis. “We have shared objectives and outcomes,” she adds.

While Ross predicts the appointment of a social care director general in the DH will make a “huge difference,” she indicates there is yet more to be done.

“A critical mass needs to gather in the DH to raise the profile of social care,” Ross says. “This is just the beginning.”

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