Social enterprise takes charge of statutory social work

North East Lincolnshire becomes first area to have independent organisation exclusively focused on delivering statutory social work.

Related articles: Tore Bjerkholt/Rex Features

A social enterprise has taken charge of all statutory adult social work across a local authority area in an unprecedented move.

focus independent adult social work became a freestanding company on 1 September with responsibility for complex case management, social care access, adult safeguarding and continuing healthcare across North East Lincolnshire.

It is one of the government’s seven social work practice pilots that are testing the outsourcing of statutory social work functions to independent organisations, but is the only one to take responsibility for all social work services. It is also the only social enterprise in England focusing exclusively on statutory adult social work (see below), and will give staff a stake in the running of the business.

Prior to 1 September, focus had been operating as part of North East Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group (previously North East Lincolnshire Care Trust Plus), which is responsible for adult social care in the area under an agreement with the local authority. The CCG will commission focus and fund its running costs, while the two organisations will share a pooled budget for the funding of care packages and personal budgets, whose use will be governed by a partnership agreement.

Social work ‘at the centre of services’

“This is a really exciting development that puts professional social work values at the centre of services with a clear focus on delivering better outcomes for individuals and the wider community,” said Joe Warner, who has just been appointed as managing director of focus.

The rationale for the establishment of focus, as set out in its business plan, is that social work needs to change in the face of personalisation and diminishing resources to become more focused on building community capacity to support people with care needs, rather than gatekeeping access to state-funded care.

The business plan said this would be better served by creating a social enterprise than by retaining social work within a statutory setting. A social enterprise’s independence would enable it to forge closer links with community groups than a council or NHS body could do, while it could also be more flexible than a statutory body in responding to need and able to involve local people in its running.

This is reflected in the governance of the organisation with one service user, one carer and one community representative on the 15-strong board. As a “community interest company“, focus will have to ensure any profits are used principally for the benefit of the community and all assets retained within the social enterprise rather than sold off.

Impact on staff

A significant role for staff is also built into the running of the organisation, with five seats on the governing board. The business plan said focus would have 144 staff – all transferring from the CCG – with 73 working on complex case management, 45 on social care access, nine on safeguarding and Court of Protection, six on continuing healthcare and 11 on business support.

All staff transfer over with their existing terms and conditions. The business plan said that staff who were members of the NHS pension scheme were likely to be able to retain membership but different pension arrangements are likely to be set up for new staff.

How statutory adult social work is changing in England

The model of local authorities directly delivering all statutory social work services across England is changing in the face of public service reforms that seek to forge closer integration with health, make services more flexible for clients, save money and liberate practitioners to exercise professional discretion.

As in North East Lincolnshire, a social enterprise is also responsible for statutory social work services in Bath and North East Somerset in the shape of Sirona Care and Health. Unlike focus it is also responsible for community healthcare and those adult social care services previously provided by the council.

While many councils have delegated their mental health social work functions to mental health trusts – though with some recently taking these back in-house – an increasing role for the NHS in adult social work is emerging for other client groups. In Staffordshire, the council has transferred its adult social workers to Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust, which is responsible for community health and adult social care across the county. Social workers are now working alongside health colleagues in integrated teams in this trust.

Other councils are retaining care management, safeguarding and other social work functions in-house but separating these functions from their adult social care commissioning responsibilities, so that social work is commissioned as if it were an external service. In Essex, two people directorates have been created, one responsible for commissioning and the other for delivering social care.

The trend towards the greater outsourcing of social work by local authorities is likely to continue when the Care Bill comes into force in April 2015. Clause 75 of the bill would enable councils to delegate their statutory social care responsibilities to an external body. And the government has said that it sees the outsourcing of at least some assessments as a crucial way in which councils can meet the significant increase in demand for assessments that they will face as a result of the government’s cap on individuals’ reasonable social care costs.

Related articles

Social work practice pilot dropped because of service restructure

Social enterprise defends plan to slash pay for adult care workers 

Social work outside the town hall: special report   

Winning over staff is key to social enterprise success

Rise of the social enterprise in social care

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