Welsh social services directors have been challenged to improve collaboration both between councils and with health partners by Welsh deputy minister for social services Gwenda Thomas.
The call came in a speech to the Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru’s annual policy seminar last week, in which she cast collaboration as vital in helping councils maintain services during the economic downturn.
Thomas said: “I am convinced that without collaboration, public services in the current climate will not be able to meet the needs of citizens and protect frontline services.”
Morgan moots merged posts
Her comments follow suggestions from Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan earlier this year that the government was considering cutting the number of senior managers in social services by merging posts across authorities.
Thomas did not allude to this in her speech.
However, commenting on the speech, Mario Kreft, chief executive of care provider umbrella body Care Forum Wales chief, said: “It’s the last chance saloon for councils. My personal view is that if councils don’t work together it will not be many years before there’s another reorganisation of local government.”
Cut in number of councils raised
He added there was no need to have 22 councils for Wales’s population of three million people if they were not capable of working together.
Thomas focused more on partnerships between councils and the NHS. She said the Welsh government’s recent reforms to the NHS – which have created new health boards responsible for all NHS services in each locality – were a “window of opportunity” to embed partnership working.
Directors of social services have a non-voting seat on the boards, which Thomas said meant “the voice of social services is heard at the point of decision making”.
ADSS Cymru president Neelam Bhardwaja said councils were already working more collaboratively with each other and with partners to share good practice and tackle financial pressures.
However, she warned: “We have faced a lot of change over recent years and there is more change on the horizon. Collaboration, although it can help achieve desired outcomes, requires a great deal of thought, and we have to make sure we deliver citizen focussed services as a whole public sector not as silos.”
The seminar also heard how councils could tackle the challenges of meeting increased demand for social care, driven by the ageing population, amid an expected downturn in public spending in future years.
Financial climate to get worse
Welsh Local Government Association director of resources Vanessa Phillips said that while the 2.1% average rise in government funding for councils in 2010-11 was “the worst settlement since devolution”, things would get worse from 2011.
Current UK government budget plans could mean average cuts of 2.9% a year in real terms from 2011-14, including for councils.
Phillips said this meant 2010-11 provided an opportunity to prepare for the difficult times ahead, but she urged directors not to impose across the board cuts, as they would erode service quality and public confidence.
However, she said programmes to improve efficiency would not suffice and councils should conduct a comprehensive review of spending with no services deemed off limits.