Two recent high-profile appointments within the Department of Health have suggested that social care may soon be fielding a hard-hitting front row, more than ready to ruck and maul for social services in their skirmishes with health.
Director general of social care David Behan, himself a former director of social services at Greenwich and Cleveland, has now been joined by former Wolverhampton director Glen Mason who took up the post of director of leadership and performance for social care in early September. Next month they will be joined by John Bolton, director of community services at Coventry Council, who will take up the position of strategic finance director for social care.
Social care has long been considered a poor relation to healthcare within the DH. With fewer resources, an inferior status, poorer conditions and lower priority, social services often appears to be something of an afterthought, to be considered once all the healthcare needs have been put in place.
But now, with three former directors of social care in place, there are hopes that social care policy may get a fairer crack of the whip.
The strengthening of social care within the DH began last August when David Behan became the first director general of social care. Appointed to “lead and champion” improvements in the service, Behan’s social care credentials were exemplary. He had spent two and a half years as chief inspector at the Commission for Social Care Inspection where, in his first year, he oversaw the delivery of a full inspection programme – something none of the CSCI’s predecessors had ever achieved. Prior to the CSCI, Behan was director of social services at Greenwich Council, director of social services designate at Middlesbrough Council, and director of social services at Cleveland Council.
However, despite Behan’s undoubted suitability for the job, his first year in post has not been easy. Much of his time has been spent overseeing the proposals outlined in last year’s health and social care white paper to shift resources from acute to preventive care services, transfer purchasing power to service users and forge closer integration between health and social care.
It is a process that has been frustrated at every step by financial spats between councils and primary care trusts and by councils’ tighter eligibility criteria in the face of budget cuts. Behan has asked the CSCI to investigate the eligibility issue and, speaking at an Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’ meeting earlier this year, stressed that social care remains high on the government’s agenda.
The unenviable task of sorting out the eligibility criteria issue is something that awaits John Bolton when he takes up his position as strategic finance director next month. Nevertheless, Bolton remains undaunted and is confident that the high calibre of the DH appointments signals a real commitment within government to the social care agenda.
“I wouldn’t want to second guess the people who have recruited me,” he says. “But the presence of people such as Glen Mason and myself does mean they are recruiting people who have long experience in social care and will be able to take that into the national debate. Most people in the sector would welcome that idea.”
Three key areas
Bolton foresees his new role as focusing on three key areas: helping local authorities meet the 3% efficiency savings demanded of them in this year’s comprehensive spending review to feed information and ideas about budgetary pressures into the green paper on funding adult social care and, in the long term, to gather information for the next spending review due in 2010.
“I hope to have a positive role in helping local authorities look at where these efficiencies may be found and I’ll be working closely with the care services efficiency delivery team to do that,” he says.
Indeed, Bolton envisages working closely with a number of stakeholders at government and local government level and within the voluntary and private sectors.
“One of the reasons I took the job was because it offered the chance to work closely with a broad range of stakeholders,” he says. “It was an opportunity that I didn’t feel I could turn down. There are some big challenges facing social care and I think I’ve got something to contribute.”
Bolton joins the DH after an eventful five years at Coventry Council where he served as director of social services and housing and more recently as director of community services. When he arrived in Coventry, the city’s social services were some of the worst in the country. They had been on special measures for four years and in 2002 were singled out as especially poor by the social services inspectorate. Five years later Coventry is a three-star council and its social services are widely regarded as some of the best in the country.
“I’ll certainly be very sad to leave Coventry,” he says. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress in many areas of the community services directorate and I’m planning to take that experience with me to the DH.”
Bolton will be working alongside another former director of social services, Glen Mason, who took up the position of director of leadership and performance in September.
Mason’s key tasks include developing the new regulatory framework, building a social care skills academy and strengthening the social care presence throughout the nine regional government offices.
He is excited about a role he describes as “raising the status of social care and ensuring a high quality workforce is up to the challenges of delivering the sort of personalised high quality services we want to see”.
“It seems to me that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop and transform social care and we have support at the highest political level to do that,” he says.
Mason had been director for adults and community at Wolverhampton Council, a role he took up in 2005 having joined the council a year earlier as director of social care, housing and health. He spearheaded a £9.3m programme to transform social services in the city, created an Adults and Community service group that incorporated leisure and cultural services, adult and community learning and community services.
During his tenure Wolverhampton social services improved its rating from one to two stars. “I was extremely happy with the massive progress we were making at a local level,” he says. “But I thought I could make a bigger contribution on the national stage. I also wanted the opportunity to work directly with David Behan who I admire as one of our truly great transformational leaders.
“There is a lot to do and a short amount of time to do it. My challenges are that we raise the status of social care, we allow local government to get on with the job, that we develop a workforce with the capacity and capability to deliver on our challenging agenda and that we build a truly joined up DH approach to health and well-being with the user in the driving seat.”
At present it is unclear whether any more high-profile appointments are planned by the DH’s social care team. At the time of his appointment David Behan outlined plans to build a 70-strong social care directorate, that would have “strategic, policy, delivery and financial capacity and capability”.
With Mason and Bolton at his side, he should have the muscle power to put these promises into effect. However, government departments have a reputation for sucking the spirit from even the most committed of trailblazers and pioneers. Having been absorbed into the belly of the behemoth DH, will these three former directors of social care really be able to generate the momentum needed to ensure social services finally gets a chance to move forward?
Will they make a difference? Please tell us what you think. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
More on the directorate
This article appeared in the 29 November issue under the headline “Fighting social care’s corner”