Unison has finally woken up to the potential threat to social
care values posed by the introduction of care trusts. It’s about
The social care field greeted the initial announcement of care
trusts last year with a muted, “Well it could have been worse”. It
could indeed, and ministers had been threatening worse for months.
But there was no call for quite such a capitulation.
Whether you agree with Unison’s position or not, there are two
important points to consider.
First, if social workers were willing to obstruct the
establishment of care trusts, they could. It could even lead to a
stand-off between frontline professionals and the secretary of
Second, if care trusts are the best way forward, senior managers
have a big task ahead in convincing staff. There has been far too
much complacency about the needs and views of those who plan and
provide social care.
Unison’s concerns about Best Value should also prompt some
soul-searching on the part of senior social services managers and
those who present the public face of social care.
Either Unison members are wrong in their view that Best Value is
merely about finding the cheapest deals, in which case far too
little has been done to give staff any ownership of policy. Or they
are right, in which case senior managers and policy-makers – who
say Best Value is far more than compulsory competitive tendering
with a new name – are dangerously out of touch.
Ministers have worked hard, and successfully, to sell both care
trusts and Best Value to senior managers. But when frontline staff
are under more pressure than ever, there has been insufficient work
to get their support.
A theme is emerging here. The extent of disenchantment with the
government among social care professionals became clear in
Community Care’s general election survey. And this week, both
Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, and Amanda
Edwards, head of social services quality strategy at the Department
of Health, have referred to the alienation of frontline staff.
Edwards spoke of the “lost voice of practitioners”, which is about
right. And Foster admits the government needs to win back the trust
of those who work directly with service users.
At least lip-service is paid to involving users by those in
senior management and in government. Practitioners don’t even get
Yet all future developments rest on their shoulders. Despite a
50 per cent increase in the number of directors and senior managers
in social services over the past five years, they are not the ones
who will deliver improvements. But with a corresponding 7 per cent
reduction in frontline staff, it is clear that pressure at the coal
face is not being relieved, however much services may appear to
improve against the government’s criteria.
See News, pages 4, 6 and 7