Keith Brown reveals how Learn to Care’s study undermines Skills for Care’s claim on training funding

Late last year, Learn to Care published a survey of its members’ use of the Department of Health’s workforce development grants. This article considers the results and their implications in light of recent debates and questions whether the current workforce development funding system is working.

Learn to Care, an organisation that supports workforce development across the social care sector, recently completed the third annual survey of its members’ use of the Department of Health’s workforce development grants.(1)

The findings have sparked a debate in Community Care in recent weeks about who should take control of the money.(2) As the authors of the Learn to Care survey we have been concerned that the results have not been reported accurately.

Skills for Care has suggested the current funding system is not working and that it should take over the relevant DH grants. But in presenting its case, our survey was inaccurately quoted and so without desiring to enter the debate as to whom the grant should go, we wish to present the conclusions of the survey in this article.

The 2006 survey asked questions about:

● The DH’s training and workforce development grants.
● The funding of workforce development in the voluntary, independent and private (VIP) sector.
● The involvement of people who use services, their informal carers and good practice examples.

Learn to Care members working in 67 local authorities responded to the 2006 survey, so about 45 per cent of local authorities in England are represented.

Workforce development grants for social care used to be ring-fenced. The grants are at present split into two: the national training strategy grant and the human resources strategy grant. More recently, ring-fencing for these grants has been removed. There is fear that money earmarked for workforce development could be spent elsewhere, but as yet this has not been realised for most Learn to Care members.

To illustrate, for 2006-7, most authorities (81 per cent) are likely to retain all the national training strategy grant, and three-quarters are likely to retain all the human resources strategy grant. These figures are consistent with the combined grant figure of 76 per cent from the 2005-6 survey. Of those authorities unable to retain 100 per cent of these grants, they were likely to be able to spend an average of 58 per cent of their national training strategy grant and 51 per cent of the human resource development strategy grant on social care workforce development.

Learn to Care members (76 per cent) make a strong plea to the DH to set even more stringent performance indicators to help maintain grants for their intended purpose and inform future planning. Of particular note is that many local authorities spend more money on training and workforce development than the indicative grants as the local authority also provides funding from its own resources. This survey did not consider the scope or scale of this funding but it needs to be borne in mind in any debate on funding.

It is estimated that three-quarters of the social care workforce is employed by the voluntary, independent and private (VIP) sector. Local authorities are required to support workforce development in the VIP sector, yet most qualified social workers work for local authorities either directly or through agencies. Part of the national training strategy grant (£13m) is to support their post-qualifying needs.

On the basis of 49 Learn to Care members’ responses, local authorities are financially supporting workforce development in the VIP sector in 2006-7, to a total of £16.5m or an average of £338,000 for each authority in 2006-7. This average is slightly higher than those from the surveys in 2005 (£322,000) and 2004 (£298,000).

If we extrapolate these figures to all local authorities in England, they suggest a total £51m is being spent in the VIP sector. However, it is likely that this figure is an underestimate as it excludes hidden costs such as proportions of staff time and administration spent on supporting workforce development in the VIP sector. This year’s funding survey aims to estimate the true spending figure and will also include an estimate of additional local authority funding for learning and development.

The challenges are not just about money and how it’s dispersed. Findings from the survey ­suggest that the main problem is one of capacity. For instance, capacity for the release of staff from the VIP sector, council capacity to cope with demand for training and development, or capacity to spend any allocated monies. As one Learn to Care member says: “Capacity for staff release remains a problem that even backfill money would not resolve, due to overall staff shortages.”

There are wide-ranging and complicated ­reasons for these capacity problems. Some relate to the difficulties of gaining a clear idea of VIP sector workforce priorities and the subsequent failure to reach agreement on how monies should be spent. Some relate to problems accessing good quality national vocational qualification assessment centres. Others relate to poor attendance on learning and development activities that are specifically targeted at the VIP sector, possibly because insufficient value is placed on these activities as they are offered free. Others still fail to spend monies because of the time taken to establish projects or because of the difficulties involved with making the myriad of partners and agencies aware of what is available.

Although there is a debate about how well the current funding system is working it would appear that most authorities (between 76-81 per cent) are likely to retain all grants for workforce development. A considerable sum – at least £51m – is being passported through to the VIP sector. Yes, we understand there are no guarantees as to how local authorities will allocate funding in future years. And yes, we must seek a remedy for the minority of local authorities who are only able to retain somewhere between 51-57 per cent of the grants for social care workforce development purposes, perhaps by using more stringent performance indictors.

But the overall picture is one of development and partnership. Indeed, the good practice ­examples taken from the survey would add weight to this and provide further evidence to counter the suggestion that the current system is not working.

Learn to care conference

The wealth of good practice examples in social care workforce development received from this survey warrant a separate publication. This will be launched at this year’s annual Learn to Care conference, and includes examples of good practice in the following areas:

● Training provision and qualification opportunities.
● Partnership development.
● New posts.
● Involvement of people who use services.
● Use of information technology to assist training.

The annual conference “Integrated Learning Integrated Working” will be held in Bournemouth on 23-24 April – go to the Events sections of the Learn to Care website. For a free electronic copy of the Directory of Good Practice, e-mail  

Keith Brown holds professional qualifications in nursing, social work, teaching and academic qualifications in nursing, social work and management. He has worked in education and training for more than 15 years for universities and council social work departments. He is director of the Centre for Post Qualifying Social Work at Bournemouth University. Natalie Bates and Steve Keen also work at the centre, Bates as a research assistant and Keen as a senior lecturer in research.

Training and learning
The author has provided questions about this article to guide discussion in teams. These can be viewed at and individuals’ learning from the discussion can be registered on a free, password-protected training log held on the site. This is a service from Community Care for all GSCC-registered professionals.

(1) K Brown, N Bates, S Keen, “Local government social care workforce development expenditure: a survey of trends and funding“, Learn to Care Publication 9, Learn to Care, 2006
(2) S Brody, “Skills for Care looks to take over control of council training budgets“, Community Care, page 6, 1 March, 2007

Further information
● The full version of the funding survey can be found on the Learn to Care website, under Consultations 
● For more information on the Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work 

This article appeared in 29 March issue under the headline “Money well spent?”



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