Council to outsource social workers and set tightest threshold

Birmingham Council would outsource all its adult social workers to a social enterprise and set the country's tightest eligibility threshold for care, under cost-cutting plans announced yesterday. (Pic: Rex Features)

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Birmingham Council would outsource all its adult social workers to a social enterprise and set the country’s tightest eligibility threshold for care, under cost-cutting plans announced yesterday.

Its plans to save £300m across the council and £107m from adult care over the next four years involve setting up a social enterprise with responsibility for assessment and support planning that would employ all social workers.

Birmingham would also become the first council in the country to restrict formal council-funded care to people with critical personal care needs, excluding from support those with substantial needs and others with critical needs that do not involve personal care.

“We are talking about the entire social work function and care management function,” said Steve Wise, service director of business change in the council’s adult services department, of the outsourcing plan. He said the plan was radical but would deliver £4.8m of savings over two years following its introduction in 2013-14.

The plan to set a “critical personal care only” threshold is expected to save £69m over the next four years, against a current adult care budget of £380m a year. Wise insisted that the council would support people with lesser needs by providing funding for community, voluntary and independent care services to support them. 

Only three councils – Northumberland, West Berkshire and Wokingham – set a critical threshold, under the Fair Access to Care Services guidance. But they all meet all aspects of critical care needs, including needs to maintain vital social support systems or vital family or work roles.

Two other councils – Isle of Wight and Norfolk – are planning to raise their threshold to critical, but they also plan to meet all aspects of the care band.

Birmingham’s plan is its response to the government’s comprehensive spending review, under which council funding will be cut by 28% in real terms from 2011-15, partially offset by £1bn in annual funding from the NHS to support adult care.

Wise said the council had to rethink its entire adult care offer because it had already achieved savings in other ways. He described Birmingham as being on the third tier of care reform where modernisation, to promote independence for people, represented the first step and personalisation  and personal budgets was the second.

Wise said the third stage of the process was prioritisation of council service provision. He added that while this would restrict the offer of direct support to a much smaller group of people it would allow substantial investment in other services. “Our expectation is that it will reach the same number of people or more,” he said.

“We have got a steep learning curve to put all this in place and it’s a very challenging agenda,” he added.

Wise stressed that no plans have been set in stone and that the consultation will run until 2 March 2011. The council’s senior managers are set to meet with staff and service user groups tomorrow to discuss the plans further.

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