The new president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, John Dixon (pictured), intends to make the organisation focus more on implementing policy. Interview by Louise Hunt
John Dixon becomes president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services at an “amazingly exciting” time, he says. The split between adults and children’s services has unleashed a “huge rush of energy”, enthuses Dixon, who believes the personalisation agenda will give both the profession and the association a much louder voice.
“The role of adult social care has changed rapidly. Whereas in the past social services operated separately in many authorities, now it is much more of a central concern and directors of adults’ social services have a greater breadth to their role. This is because the local authority approach is transforming into a well-being agenda.
“This has meant significant change for the way Adass needs to operate. I see my role as president as a way of taking this change forward,” he says.
Dixon succeeds Anne Williams at Adass and brings with him 11 years’ experience as director of social services, latterly adults, for West Sussex. He was previously head of commissioning and deputy director at Surrey social services and began his social work career in the probation service, going on to manage a county-wide youth offending team. As Adass vice president and co-chair of its disabilities committee he has been actively involved in influencing the direction of adults’ social work in health and well-being.
He sees the Putting People First concordat to reform social care through individual budgets, signed in December between the Department of Health and local government, as a landmark agreement that will change Adass’ approach.
“Adass needs to act differently. In the past it was more of a lobbying organisation, particularly targeting the Department of Health through committees. Now we have much more of a responsibility to work with the DH on implementing policy as an equal partner and we need to work more with members in regional authorities.”
To make personalisation viable, he says Adass needs to go back to its roots to pool learning and resources from the regions, at the same time as the DH is establishing deputy regional directors and the Department of Communities and Local Government is introducing regional improvement partnerships to support the agenda.
The expertise exists in councils to deliver personalisation, “but we do need help to pool resources”, he says.
Financial arrangements remain a major concern and challenge for social services and Adass hopes to influence an as yet unnamed green paper on the state of funding arrangements and meeting need for social care that the government is expected to begin work on this summer. “Adass will bring its expertise of managing resources. Because of the concordat we expect our voices to be heard more so than before; we now have a more mature relationship with central government,” he says.
West Sussex has been one of the In Control pilot sites for personalised budgets. Dixon does not believe personalisation constitutes a risk to services in itself, but he readily admits there is a great deal of work to be done on funding arrangements and managing risk, along with developing workforce skills.
Working with the NHS on the well-being agenda is another focus for Dixon and Adass. He will be linking with the DH’s World Class Commissioning programme, which is working with local government and third sector providers on delivering services to improve the health of local communities. And Anne Williams will continue her position on Lord Darzi’s NHS Review advisory board on acute and primary care services. Adass is also giving evidence to several committees on protecting vulnerable adults.
Seven point manifesto
Last year, with an eye on the regulatory shake-up that will form part of the Health and Social Care Bill, the association issued a seven-point manifesto calling for legislative change that would give social workers the power to enter people’s homes with the police to investigate suspected adult abuse. It also wants the regulator to work more closely with authorities to identify and respond to instances of abuse and neglect.
A review was announced by the DH in February despite Adass saying last year that social work directors supported the need for legislation rather than a review.
So is Dixon disappointed? “We have no objections to the review. We are still reiterating the calls we made last year. This is an important area for the association and we feel it is the right time for legislation.”
Dixon’s approach to achieving his aims as president is suitably conciliatory for a person who started his career working with people with behavioural challenges. “What is essential is working together. That’s how things work at a local level and it’s the same at national level. The government is in sympathy with our agendas. That’s not to say that there won’t be any disagreements. But we do need to work together. We have a hugely skilled workforce out there and it is people, not structures that count.”
Interview with new president of ADCS, Maggie Atkinson
This article appeared in the 24 April issue under the headline “Less lobbying, more leading”