Work in progress

can be a great place to live and work but there are many challenges
and difficulties to overcome, says Anthony Douglas.

Climbie inquiry is keeping social services in London under the
spotlight, uncomfortably so. That will continue for most of 2002,
its impact likely to be heightened by the publication of the first
national league tables in the summer, when a disproportionate
number of London councils could be occupying the drop zones,
especially for children’s services.

London council is complacent about this. Social services continues
to receive great political and managerial support within councils,
and budgetary increases in 2003-4 will exceed 10 per cent in some
councils. These will be paid for from within, to keep pace with
demand, mostly at the expense of other hard-pressed services.

reasons for difficulties are well documented. They include: the
continuing rise in the numbers of looked-after children, which are
unfunded by central government; the rising costs of specialist
placements for disabled adults, fees for which are rising much
faster than inflation; price wars between councils to attract staff
and foster carers; the residential care and nursing home markets
jamming up; and increasing pressure from Whitehall to deliver
tougher targets on bed-blocking.

managerial capacity to deal with all this is reducing rather than
expanding. Even when salaries are hiked, shortlists are often
meagre, and while none of these trends are new, the problem is not
significantly abating despite a genuine commitment backed by
resources from all levels of government to sort it.

still has some of the most innovative projects you would find
anywhere. The only refuge of note for child runaways, used to
support vulnerable children from all over the country, is primarily
funded from within London. Imaginative joint health and social care
schemes like take-a-granny home services, which support pensioners
alone in accident and emergency departments. The recent publicity
about Rose Addis, the 94-year-old in the Whittington Hospital,
shows how the press and politicians often make working life appear
worse than it is, which further discourages recruitment. Good news
stories never make the front page.

Multi-cultural life in London is a great strength, with most
citizens finding something to enjoy in its diversity. More than 100
community languages are spoken in some boroughs. It is vital that
councils’ workforces represent those communities. Boroughs
like Tower Hamlets have made great strides in starting trainee
schemes for local people to start a career in social care.

There is
a lack of understanding about the complexity of working with
service users from different cultures under pressure. Around 90 per
cent of asylum seekers are in London, and work with them has grown
into a specialism in its own right in many London boroughs.
Thousands of displaced people have been helped to get back in
control of their lives, a real achievement amid all the

Reorganisations continue to blight inter-agency working in the
capital. Good inter-agency working requires a degree of staffing
stability, so that trust and familiarity can grow between staff
working in different professional cultures and disciplines. The NHS
is in a state of perpetual flux, which delays progress in meeting
key targets and consolidating change. The Probation Service has yet
to settle down after shifting to a London-wide service. The
magistracy is on the move. The police are about to be reformed
again. The Connexions service is being given extra responsibilities
before anyone has even met someone who works for it! And the
plethora of new government initiatives lures staff away from the
front line into the comfort zone of creative projects.

is a great place to live and work, but the cost of living deters
many potential staff from coming to live here, especially
experienced staff, who are desperately needed in the capital. The
recruitment shortage now extends to support staff such as
accountants. And with the budget pressures all councils face, good
accountants are as essential as good social workers.

Anthony Douglas is executive director of Community
services, Havering Council.

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