Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

The expectation at the National Social Services Conference in
Harrogate was that health secretary Alan Milburn would deliver a
morale-raising speech to spur on the social care profession. After
all, his speech had been widely trailed as announcing a £2m
recruitment campaign aimed at improving the profession’s public

Milburn did just that, if rather briefly, but he stunned the
assembled social services directors and councillors by giving a
swingeing critique of failing councils.

Milburn’s tone was generally reproachful. Councils will now
receive a star rating for social services performance and the best
performers will earn themselves “greater local freedom”. In sharp
contrast, poorly performing councils will be summoned to agree an
action plan with the Social Services Inspectorate, while councils
which fail to improve may face further intervention. External
experts may be brought in to take over responsibility for failing

We asked our regular panel, some of whom were present in
Harrogate, for their views of the speech.

Karen Warwick, senior practitioner,

“Alan Milburn’s speech exemplifies central government’s poor
understanding of the needs of social services. Naming and shaming
will only serve to further entrench the low morale, which appears
to have become endemic in some areas. A well-resourced recruitment
campaign is crucial given the massive staffing shortages, but
recruitment is one thing, retaining staff is another. The current
staffing crisis is due to poor resources, inexperienced staff
managing complex caseloads and poor supervision. Addressing these
issues first may give the recruitment campaign a fighting

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“It is right for the government to name failing authorities but
they must also act to ensure that local people receive high quality
services and, if necessary, remove those who have failed to deliver
at both political and officer level. Unless the government does
something decisive they will continue the problem rather than
deliver the solution.”

Bill Badham, programme manager, Children’s

“Come join this wonderful profession we all love to bash and
blame! By delivering such a speech Alan Milburn made the progress
he says he wants much harder to achieve through giving out such
contradictory messages. Perhaps the real keynote speech was
elsewhere: children and young people addressed Harrogate delegates,
saying involve us in planning services that affect us; it will
challenge attitudes and power, but it will forge new partnerships
through collaboration, not conflict.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, British Agencies for
Adoption and Fostering

“I was at the Harrogate conference, full of anticipation, but
Alan Milburn’s speech left me feeling quite empty and depressed. I
had really believed he would use this platform to launch the
recruitment campaign with passion and a rallying call to all our
social workers on the front line. What a missed opportunity for
energising the workforce, but what a perfect choice if you wanted
to further attack and demoralise the most struggling local
authorities when their directors and councillors were packed
together. Do ministers never learn that there are other ways to
improve performance?”

Julia Ross, social services director and primary care
trust chief executive, London Borough of Barking and

“I was both disappointed and puzzled by the speech. We all look
for inspiration, something a little uplifting from our leaders and
that certainly wasn’t on offer. We do understand the need to
deliver, but that’s not the issue. We get the best from our teams
by a judicious mixture of patience, praise and carefully applied
pressure. I’d lose more than I’d gain if I took Alan Milburn’s
advice and exposed who was the worst and who the best.”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.