Editorial Comment: Quality at the top

The success of councils’ newly configured adults’ and children’s departments will in large part depend on the quality of their leadership. It is going to take vision, inspiration and determination to drive forward standards during this period of shifting structures, policies and funding.

But a report by the Improvement Development Agency warns that councils are finding it difficult to recruit high calibre directors and deputy directors of services. But why should this be? Director level jobs are well paid, with some topping £150,000 a year. And a glance at either the directors’ role for children or adults reveals an exciting job with expanded responsibilities and challenging change management.

The problem stems from the limited pool from which directors are being recruited from. And it is widespread. A survey last year showed that half of public sector organisations were unable to attract talent at director level.

This talent pool needs to be deepened and widened. It could be widened by recruiters being more flexible over candidates’ backgrounds, putting more emphasis on capabilities than direct experience. Many will be watching with interest how directors with a background in education lead social care in children’s services, and vice versa.

But, more importantly, the pool should be deepened by existing directors working much more closely with their HR teams to develop talent management schemes. These should identify high calibre social workers earlier and provide them with the experience, training and mentoring to fast track them towards leadership.

Getting the right leaders during these challenging times is too important to leave to the vagaries of the recruitment market.

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