Danger lurks in the management maze

Yvonne Roberts says that standards and targets
are preventing social care staff from helping clients.

A Question of Trust is the subject of
the 2002 Reith lectures, the first of which will be broadcast on
BBC’s Radio Four on 3 April. Over five lectures, Dr Onora O’Neill,
principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, will examine whether we
are seeing a crisis of trust in our professionals – politicians,
scientists, doctors and social workers – or the creation of a
culture of suspicion. In the first lecture, recorded earlier this
month, she argued that whether distrust is real or perceived, it is
having a debilitating impact on society and democracy.

Dr O’Neill went on to ask whether informed
trust can be restored by making people and institutions more
accountable. Or do complex systems of accountability and control
only do more damage? Do they create a potentially crippling culture
of blame and compensation, the end result of which is a greater
level of deceit delivered in the name of transparency? (A situation
similar to the description of the regime which has emerged from the
Victoria Climbie Inquiry.)

How Dr O’Neill expands her arguments over the
weeks remains to be seen but the territory she is exploring has a
resonance in social care in particular. Last week, for instance, in
The Guardian, the newspaper revisited more than 150 public
sector employees whom it first interviewed a year ago. What marks
out many of those on the social care front line who gave their
opinions is their concern with the increasing demands attached to
being seen to be accountable.

Part of the problem, of course, is that
improved efficiency has also become entangled in the drive for
economies. So, many of those endeavouring to satisfy the panoply of
inspections, audits and Best Value targets begin to feel more as if
they are lost in a management maze instead of extending help to
those who are most vulnerable.

Julia Neuberger, director of the health think
tank, the King’s Fund, argues that: “Fear of failure against
performance targets constrains innovation, encouraging a production
line approach to delivery”.

Genuine accountability will continue to be
unattainable as long as many professions are allowed to regulate
themselves. The so-called compensation culture is important because
the penalty of paying a high price can often expedite change which
would otherwise take decades. At the same time, we need to look
again at how we deliver good management without making many
professionals feels so constrained that one of the most important
tools in social work – trust in their own judgement – is
dangerously undermined.

A Question of Trust, 8pm, 3 April,
Radio 4

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.