Your article (“How councils might square the circle”, 3 June, http://bit.ly/923xjE) made a good contribution to how councils might save money. One important area that hasn’t received sufficient coverage is the demands of central government for information. For example in adult services, the Department of Health demands a vast array of information. This includes: national performance indicators, referrals, assessment and packages of care data, personal social services expenditure data and adult social care combined activity returns. On top of that there is the data required for inspections.
An army of people are employed to manage the data within each local authority and more significantly every time there is a social care assessment, intervention, service procured, or referral made to another agency, a social worker has to input the information.
For more than 20 years we have been promised that the data will improve decision-making and practice because we are moving from measuring outputs to measuring outcomes. Yet it is evident the vast majority of the data is about trying to measure outputs. Where there have been attempts to measure outcomes additional indicators have often been introduced.
Nor is the data collection confined to councils with adult social services responsibilities. Where services are contracted out the data collection is exported to the social care providers, who must feed back to the council. The Care Quality Commission makes demands on both local authorities and providers to produce data. In theory this data is used to measure the quality of services required, yet councils often lack confidence in the data so local authority contracting units collect their own extra data.
I have spoken to a wide spectrum of people who work in social services performance departments. Many of them do not have confidence in the data generated. They are also concerned that the data is not useful for improving performance.
For example, the expenditure and unit costs returns record the number of clients receiving homecare of more than 10 hours and six or more visits per week. Just calculating the figures is a problem, and even if that is overcome, interpreting the results is complex. A local authority that has a low score is regarded as problematic; yet that local authority may provide a lot of support for family carers, at a lower level of intensity, and therefore be helping more people.
Good quality information is essential to help improve performance. However, data should not be an end in itself, more a means to an end. Information needs to be owned by staff on the ground, who can see that it makes a difference to the lives of users of services.
To achieve this we need a bonfire of much of the national data and the bureaucracy that has grown to support this. This would save money and free up front line workers and first line managers to enable them to concentrate on providing good quality professional services.
Joe Godden, policy development worker (adults) England, BASW
Recruitment is ripe for outsourcing
While outsourcing was suggested as one of the ways in which councils can cut costs, recruitment wasn’t mentioned (“How councils might square the circle”, 3 June, http://bit.ly/923xjE).
Outsourcing some or all parts of the recruitment process to experts has already been used to good effect within public sector organisations in recent years.
Haringey Council, for example, has achieved £3.25m in savings with regards to recruitment spend. For all care organisations, recruiting the right staff is crucial, but it is an area that often has the least amount of control and visibility as it is often handled by various different people.
Using external experts can also increase the quality of service candidates receive, enabling employers to gain a greater and more holistic view of their recruitment because it is all managed in one place.
The UK still faces chronic shortages in social care and attracting the most skilled professionals is a complex process.
Outsourcing this can ensure organisations have the best personnel to lead the necessary changes and drive efficiencies.
Paul Marriott, managing director, Hays Social Care