Social care workers at Suffolk Council have been hit by low morale and face an uncertain future, following the authority’s decision to start outsourcing nearly all of its services, a move described by the British Association of Social Workers as irresponsible.
Labour councillor Bryony Rudkin hit out at the Conservative-controlled authority’s cost-cutting plans and said morale was falling among staff.
Rudkin, who serves Suffolk Council as an opposition member, told Community Care that the authority’s 270 social workers “are concerned about their clients, as well as themselves”.
Fran Fuller, UK chair of BASW, criticised the council for proposing such a fundamental shake-up of services at a time when social work is undergoing a wider programme of reform.
“Research recognises the crisis situation social workers are in today. To start experimenting at a time like this is quite irresponsible,” she said. “They are playing with the lives of the workers.”
Community Care understands that Suffolk plans to outsource all services, including child protection, to external providers over the next five years.
The council’s leader, Jeremy Pembroke, said last week that the plan was designed to reduce costs, waste and bureaucracy in the face of major cuts in government funding.
Rick Muir, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, a leading left-of-the-centre think tank, warned that the plans would be unsettling for the workforce even if employees kept their current terms and conditions.
He claimed the council was demonstrating an “anti-state ideology” that did not take into account the best, most pragmatic way to deliver services.
“The problem with the Suffolk model is that it starts with the assumption that the state is always the worst option,” he said. “And it’s driven by cuts in government spending.
“The decision about how to carry out services needs to be pragmatic. Instead, this is a wholesale outsourcing of all of the council’s functions.”
A spokesperson for Suffolk Council said staff would be involved in any major decisions affecting the services they provide.
“Like all other local authorities, we are facing challenging financial times and a major programme of transformation in adult social care with the Putting People First agenda,” he said.
“We are responding by equipping social care staff to support people to take greater control when it comes to what they need, when they need it.”
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