Unions are concerned that a move by three London councils to merge will see social workers becoming remote from families and that more services will be privatised.
“A tri-parted social care system is going to create a distance between practitioners and service users,” Gina O’Connor, assistant branch secretary of Unison Westminster, told Community Care.
“Who’s going to account for these vulnerable people when the department is so far removed from the local communities and nobody really knows them? Social workers and care workers need to be within a community they know in order to see what’s going on.”
O’Connor said she also feared that reduced management would mean most services would become privatised, which in turn would lessen accountability.
“In my opinion, most of the services will go out to different agencies. I just don’t see how the three councils could run them at all. The problem with that is that it’s unclear who the councils will hold accountable for services.”
Westminster has a record of privitisation, according to Linda Perks, Unison regional secretary. She said about 50% of the services in Westminster were provided by private companies.
“We’re definitely concerned about which borough’s style is going to take ascendency,” she said. “Hammersmith and Fulham are also going down the privatised route, so Kensington and Chelsea, which is a much smaller borough anyway, could easily be moved that way.”
A spokesman from Hammersmith and Fulham denied the councils would lose their connections to the local communities.
“We’re not forming a homogenous blob,” he said. “Each council will maintain its ability to ask for specific services for its population. All that would happen differently is that all the services would be commissioned by a single team of people.”
In terms of social work supervision, O’Connor said Westminster would not change.
“Our social workers have a very good network and a strong system in place when it comes to frontline crises,” she said. “Getting help for the right people at the right time will continue, even if managers are located remotely, because it’s already done by telephone and followed up by an email.”
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