Writes Maria Ahmed
Hackney Council’s Unison branch is threatening to strike over a restructure of children’s social work in the east London local authority.
Under the plans introduced in May, social work “units” will be created with small teams of “consultant” social workers and other professionals with the aim of reducing management and bureaucracy.
In July, Steve Goodman, deputy director of children’s services at Hackney, told Community Care the units would mean “an end to social work teams” and give social workers the authority to make decisions on cases without referring them to team managers.
The council is currently recruiting for 50 jobs in the units, with top salaries for different roles between £40,000 and £50,000. The first unit is due to be set up in November.
While the council has been keen to promote what they call “reclaiming social work”, Unison says 80 social workers are being forced to “jump through hoops” to reapply for their jobs, with 30 or more at risk of redundancy.
Andrew Williamson, Unison’s co-convenor at Hackney, claimed consultation on the restructure, which began in May, was “an utter farce” and said the assessment process for the new positions was “more than usually required of external candidates”, including psychometric tests.
“Staff are being denied their contractual rights, given offers of alternative employment that are unreasonable and forced to reapply for their jobs,” he said.
Williamson said the units should have been piloted first and said staff “remain unconvinced of their virtue.”
He added: “A failure of the current experiment is likely to have serious social and personal costs to staff and the community. If there is a groundswell in favour we will ballot for industrial action.”
Hackney Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Rita Krishna, said there had been “extensive” consultation with social workers and unions and said many staff were “very positive” about the changes.
But she added that the new units would mean there were fewer social worker posts and confirmed there could be some redundancies. She said the assessment process was designed to ensure there was no bias in selecting staff.
“It is our intention to deal with any issues that Unison bring to our attention and we hope to complete the change process with the continued support of our staff,” Krishna said.
Goodman told Community Care that the council had received about 200 applications so far to work in the units, including one candidate each from Greece and Australia.