There are always going to be winners and
losers when dividing resources between departments and teams. So it
is vital managers explain to staff the reasons behind decisions,
says Jon Glasby.
I am a social services manager and want to
allocate department resources fairly between different areas of my
authority. What sort of approaches should I consider?
At first glance, allocating resources between
different areas of a social services department would seem to be
straightforward: every department must have some method of
distributing funding and a neutral observer might be forgiven for
thinking that there should be a uniform system.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, and the
question you ask is one that many authorities would probably
struggle to answer to your satisfaction.
Allocating resources is difficult and often
controversial. Whenever you change the way funding is distributed
there are always winners and losers. While the winners might
support the changes, the losers will feel understandably
Resource allocation is a high-profile
political issue that can incur the anger of members of the public
and their elected representatives. Most people have little
understanding of local government finance, but headlines such as
“local residential home to close” or “council cuts £xx
million” are guaranteed to cause a stir.
There is no easy way of allocating resources,
and any process can become increasingly complex as well-meaning
stakeholders try to expand and improve it. For example, an
authority may decide to allocate resources for older people solely
on the basis of the number of referrals each team receives.
Someone else may then point out that the
process should recognise the fact that many localities have
different numbers of older people to begin with, while another
worker may want to take the number of older people living alone
Poverty and the prevalence of disability may
also be relevant factors and before you know it you have created a
monster which few people can understand or use.
This can then undermine confidence in the new
resource allocation system and fuel local disagreements as to who
should get the most money.
Although there is little literature in this
area, there are some models. At the University of Kent, the
personal social services research unit has developed a computerised
model of population needs assessment to examine the match between
needs and services and to consider issues such as the relative
resource needs in different areas.
Another model was piloted by the social
services research and development unit at Bath, but has not been
widely implemented. Other local authorities use a variety of
deprivation measures or adopt the statistical method used by the
government to allocate central funding to individual local
authorities (the standard spending assessment).
Most, however, probably distribute resources
on the basis of historical accident, increasing or reducing area
allocations in line with changes in the overall budget.
Unfortunately, none of these approaches is entirely satisfactory
and all have major limitations. Before proceeding too far, it is
important to take a step back and begin to consider some of the
– What allocation method are you using and
– What are you trying to achieve by changing
– What do you mean by seeking to achieve a
– What factors will you need to consider when
allocating resources (for example, referrals and demographic
– Do you have the resources and expertise to
develop a new approach in-house or should you use an external
Above all, you need to be explicit about what
you are doing and why. Changing resource allocation is
controversial and to manage the process properly you need to be
able to demonstrate that you are proceeding in a logical and