Social work diary: ‘They call it service ‘transformation’ but it’s more like decimation’

The bright, sparkling vision of our service restructure masks deep cuts that will see more loss and fracture for those we support, writes a social worker

Picture: Elizaio (Flickr)


It’s the first day of our new service structure. We were given less than four weeks’ notice of which staff were in the new teams. Understandably people complained about having to change location with little notice, and the list of staff assigned to the team that I’ll be managing was only confirmed last week.

At present we have no admin support and unfinished offices. I feel so overwhelmed by the chaos I can’t really think straight. More worrying than this is the impact on service users. I have just sent out the list of the cases that need to be transferred to new workers and I know that this will mean effective relationships with young people will be disrupted with virtually no warning. More loss and fracture for those already with very little support and stability.


Another day at the desk, just trying to get my head round the complications of the new team and structure. I’m finally up to date with my emails and as solutions begin to emerge I start to feel a bit more centred and steady for the first time in weeks. I return to my screen and suddenly see an email from the head of service. They have just been given a date for our service to be inspected. It begins in two weeks. I can’t quite believe it. It feels like the last thing we need.


Today the managers in our service have a meeting with the service directors to address some of our concerns about the recent changes. It’s good of them to give the time for the meeting, but there are definitely signs that any dissent will be looked on very unfavourably.

The restructure has stemmed from the need for the council to make huge savings. Posts have been lost and the management layer above me has essentially disappeared. Specialist teams have been moved into a generic preventative service, with the argument that collaborative working will mean much greater effectiveness and efficiency.

It’s all good in theory, and hard to object to when it is being presented so persuasively, but the reality is that we have been working collaboratively in a multi-disciplinary team for years, and the ‘new ways of working’ don’t feel new at all. It’s more about rebranding,  than a fundamentally new approach.

The new targets being set are so excessively high that it seems people have confused collaborative working with magic! I worry about these clever people and this clever branding, because this is actually about cuts and real reductions to our service. They are calling it transformation of our service, but it feels more like decimation.

I point out that due to the reduction in management posts some of the people round the table are now due to be line managing too many members of staff. They will also not be getting their own supervision from someone with a social work background.

I reference Munro, and safe levels of supervision. They write down my concerns but I don’t have much hope they will do anything. Problems like this interrupt their bright, sparkling vision and it’s much easier to keep believing in the magic than face the reality: that cuts affect real people and members of staff can only cope with so much change.

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10 Responses to Social work diary: ‘They call it service ‘transformation’ but it’s more like decimation’

  1. Rob November 12, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    An all too familar picture. There’s only so many times they can paint over the cracks before the foundations give in.

  2. Jennifer Wendy Burns November 12, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    Transformation: it could work well, if only we were fully staffed, with a good BSO. We are neither. Coupled with the cases that we are still working on post ‘transformation’ that will take weeks, if not months to clear, it’s currently difficult to be positive!

    • Ian kemp November 12, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

      Proves my argument . At some point if social work is to survive as a any sort of profession it has to be reorganised in a more professional way. First move would be to get it out of the stupid waste of money that is local authority with its over managed hierarchy…It would save millions . It complicated but also simple . Unfortunately our beloved Politicians will not go near it even if they had the brain to understand it

  3. David November 13, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    Ian, You don’t explain how it will save money in the private sector?? My guess is through cuts to pay and terms and conditions. Ideological nonsense your talking. Pro Government right wing agenda. Social work is finished due to Austerity as we move towards a Darwinian survival of the fittest, richest in society. Soon we will all live with the consequences of no safety net and no welfare state, you will be happy with that I guess

    • Ian kemp November 14, 2014 at 9:38 pm #

      Hi Dave I do not think that privatisation is the Answer. I am to left wing for that That is not what I am driving at. There are all sorts of ways to fund social work , but what is very clear is that local authority and its hierarchy has been a absolute disaster for social work . It has created a whole range of operatives who obey the dictates of the management . I have worked for over 42 years in all forms of social work in over 26 local authorities and some private areas . in every role from T/M senior S/W S/W . When I started after 3 university degrees all those years ago there were social work departments with a social work director. The social work department was some what detached from L/A The Hierarchy was just Director Asst Director and in the big Inner city I worked in there were 14 areas with Area manager T/M senior S/W S/W s who had bits of specialisation. There was a divisional Manager south and north and south . That was the end of the hierarchy. The Unions were very strong . We had a fair degree of independence . We could challenge the L/A with regard to housing . There was a good morale we worked hard .Ok it was a different political time . The nonsense of neoliberalism and marketization of society and social work had not appeared. We worked hard . Bright grads came into the job with the motivation to change things . Now its mainly about working for the local gov system to keep local politicians happy . It is mainly procedural with masses of paper work and computerised systems to justify some senior manager paid a lot of money to manage the system for the local authority system going. Surely there must be a better way do you not think ? The Hierarchy of L/A multiplied more then 100 x with loads of managers of this and that paid millions delivering a marginal service to clients or what is called service users . . Sure despite this stupidity some very good work is done. But look at the vast cost just to deliver a very small service. Unfortunately no Politician has the guts or vision or nerve to touch it because the implications are massive .May if I get the time I will write a book about my 42 years in Social work and what I think the solution could be
      Take care and keep up the good work
      Ian Kemp

    • ian kemp November 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

      Hi Dave I am not advocating the private sector . There are many ways that social work could be funded. As it is I am afraid the Local Gov system with its huge bureaucracy and layer upon layer of managers its very costly and more important it only delivers a very small service to clients or as marketization dictates service users . ? Perhaps another time I can go into detail about how I see this could take place. Believe me when I say, there has to be a better way that is more professional and cost effective then the system that we have in place L/A has always been bureaucratic . It operates by a process known as incrementalism that is it will increase the bureaucracy to try and deal with every eventuality so creating more systems, procedures paper work managers ect.. The corporate approach to social problems tends towards control rather then change. So there is the development of a form of language that eventually which has been identified by Michelle.

  4. michelle moore November 13, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Well written piece, add into the ‘magic’ a local authority that insists on using terms such as ‘Citizen’ ‘throughput’ and ‘customer journey’ and the ‘magic’ begins to feel more like science fiction, than the provision of essential services for those in need!

    • Ian kemp November 14, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

      I agree see above Its called management speak a far cry from the ideals of true social work values

  5. Beth November 13, 2014 at 6:24 pm #

    Sounds like an appalling lack of insight into Social Work by the above Local Authority. It’s not uncommon but this is so wrong! Managers need quality reflective supervision as well as the workers they are managing. I now resent this ability to be managed by non social work qualified others. It is unsafe and should be stopped! By the way yes I have experienced this and it was not good! The supervision became almost bullying at times and was no where near reflective!
    It’s about time Social Work was professionalised yet Local Authorities are increasingly treating qualified Social Workers like a piece of garbage. Coupled with the HCPC the profession is in big trouble!

    • Ian kemp November 14, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

      You are dead right see my comment above