At the mercy of the joint review

Mullally says the obsession with cost is stifling social care
provision. The government should take heed.

are challenging times to be a trade union activist in a social
services department. For diehards like myself who kept the flame
alight through Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s,
there were high expectations that the return of Labour would herald
a new golden era for public services. Nowhere has the
disappointment been as great as in social services.

years later the outlook is bleak, and there is a general
recognition that social care provision is seriously underfunded.
Moreover, we are in a recruitment crisis and are seeing a growing
public perception of failure fuelled by events such as the Victoria
Climbi‚ inquiry.

So how
did we get to this state? The appointments section of this
publication gives the game away. The debate over who should deliver
our social services is over and the skills demanded at the senior
level are those of commissioning and “strategic” planning. This
grim uniformity suggests one source – the joint review.

uniform approach is valuable if its theoretical framework is
strong, but there is mounting evidence that this is not the case
and that the influence of the joint review has become part of the
problem rather than the solution for social care policy

at the Climbi‚ inquiry highlighted the failure by inspectors
to identify weaknesses in child protection systems. The reality is
that reviews have focused on cost rather than quality as the
defining issue. Progress has been judged largely by the extent of
commissioning in the private and independent sector and dedication
to the relentless pursuit of cheaper service delivery.

Particularly concerning about the role of the joint review is the
apparent reluctance of councils to challenge their conclusions.
Outsourcing – the stock-in-trade of the “modernising” department –
removes control from councillors but not responsibility.

dilemma for the government is that the joint review process has
become the only show in town. Most independent observers would
agree that it has favoured an ever-increasing role for the private
sector and has caused an increase in charges and rationing of

For a
government instructing the electorate to judge it on the quality of
its public services it is surely time to listen to the growing
chorus of academic, professional and community opinion calling for
a fresh assessment of the role and influence of the joint review
process in determining the future of social care provision.

Donal Mullally is chairperson of Wakefield Unison social
services committee.

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