Councils shun social work practice pilots

Government attempts to roll out GP-style social work practices under the Big Society banner have come under fire after four authorities pulled out of a pilot scheme, citing a lack of funding. (pic: Rex Features)

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Government attempts to roll out GP-style social work practices under the Big Society banner have come under fire after four authorities pulled out of a pilot scheme, citing a lack of funding.

Warwickshire, Coventry, South Tyneside and Lincolnshire councils withdrew from a second wave of children’s social work practice pilots to be launched this year.

Warwickshire Council accused the Department for Education of trying to rush the pilots into operation in a few months, with grants of £100,000 for each site that lasted only until the end of March this year.

The council had been one of nine new pilot authorities announced in January in an expansion of the programme.

Bristol, North Tyneside with Northumberland, Peterborough and Wakefield will continue to take part, while six other authorities have signed up to a similar project in adults’ services, funded by the Department of Health.

But Warwickshire and Coventry, which had intended to work in partnership, scrapped plans to outsource services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to an independent social work practice after officials read the DfE’s small print.

“Both authorities were concerned that creating and implementing a strategy for the funding would not be feasible within the timescale and ran the risk of using neither the money nor officer time in a planned and judicious way,” a statement from Warwickshire Council said.

Council officers told the DfE that, if the timeframes were “more viable”, both authorities would consider re-applying.

Sue Westcott, assistant director of children’s services at Lincolnshire Council, said that, due to a restructure of her department, the authority decided not to proceed. “In the challenging financial climate all authorities are facing, we have made child protection and safeguarding a priority,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said the four councils had withdrawn due to restructures after the government’s spending review, “but indicated they would like to participate in the next wave”.

But Simon Cardy, a social worker from the West Midlands and member of the Social Work Action Network, said the latest withdrawals showed the policy was failing.

“The reality is dawning on local authorities that the independent practices are financially risky,” he said. “Children are better off within the local government framework, which has better economies of scale.”

However, the government’s expansion of social work practices has won the backing of former Labour minister Lord Adonis, who grew up in care.

He wrote in The Times last week: “Success stories from the early pilots show social workers with high levels of motivation, able to spend more time with the children in their care, making good use of managerial and service-delivery flexibility.”

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