Directors of social services are calling on the Welsh Assembly Government to clarify the outcomes of its drive for councils to collaborate with other public bodies, amid confusion over how progress should be measured.
National policy in Wales requires councils to form partnerships with other organisations such as health boards to deliver integrated services.
The Association of Directors of Social Services Cymru supports the initiative, set out in the 10-year plan to reform social services, Fulfilled Lives, Supportive Communities, published in 2008.
However, the past-president of ADSS Cymru, Neelam Bhardwaja, is concerned over a lack of criteria to measure success in this area.
She told Community Care: “Collaboration is becoming a stick to beat us with.”
Bhardwaja, director of social services and education at Cardiff Council, added: “I want to put it back to the assembly government, and say ‘I hear all your rhetoric about collaboration, but tell me when will you know when we’ve arrived?'”
Powys Council and Powys teaching health board had been considering a full merger but a report last month by consultants KPMG said there were “significant obstacles” to bringing the two organisations together.
Bhardwaja commented: “In Powys, the willingness was there but there were a lot of hurdles because of the different structures in the two organisations,” she said.
The deputy minister for social services, Gwenda Thomas, responded by stressing that there was not enough time to wait “until we have designed some complex evaluation mechanism”.
“Collaboration is essential,” she said.
“We must address the challenges that face us as a whole system. I want to see measurable achievements in outcomes for service users. However, I do not think we can afford to wait to collaborate, until we have designed some complex evaluation mechanism.
“Each service must be designed and evaluated on the basis of indicators of cost and benefit that relate to its own circumstances.”
At the National Social Services conference in Llandudno last week, Thomas reiterated her call for innovative partnerships to produce more cost-effective services.
A commission into social services in Wales, due to report this autumn, is currently considering how to achieve a “step change in collaboration”.
Thomas said this would not look at local government reorganisation, but, referring to the number of councils in Wales, added: “I have, however, previously stated my view that Wales is too small to do everything in social services twenty two times.”