Policy partners

In Learning the Lessons, its report on joint review in Wales for
1999-2000,1 the Audit Commission identified several
familiar problems, some “old solutions” and encouraged the adoption
of new solutions. Two of the main areas of difficulty were
workforce pressures and delivering on the modernising agenda. Local
authorities in Wales have had significant problems in delivering on
these fronts. There has, however, been a lot of activity in recent

There continue to be problems in recruitment and retention of staff
throughout Wales. The problem affects statutory, voluntary and
independent sectors and all levels of staff including home carers,
social workers and managers. Pressures on front-line managers are
increased by having to manage the extra problems which arise as a
result of staff shortages.

Recruitment of social workers to child care teams has been
particularly difficult, leading local authorities to raise salary
levels, offer enhanced packages, use agency staff, and resort to
acting up arrangements.

These solutions are not the way forward because they are
ineffective and inefficient, but is there any evidence of a more
strategic approach?

Yes, there are some positive signs. A cross-sector Task and Finish
group on the workforce was set up under Graham Williams, chief
inspector at the Social Service Inspectorate Wales. Several
important initiatives have come from the group. The Faces of Care
materials, developed by the Care Council for Wales, focus on the
experiences of those working in the social care sector and those
receiving social care services. The materials identify a range of
job opportunities available and provide an overview of the training
and qualifications available in the sector. They are in the form of
case studies, fact sheets and video interviews with people from the
social care sector in Wales. Staff and skill shortages in the wider
economy mean that the sector needs to market itself more

Four regional partnerships have been set up across Wales to help
progress the workforce agenda – among other things they have held
successful job fairs.

Other initiatives include the issue of Planning for Caring, which
gives guidance to councils on human resource planning in social
care. This has been backed up by workshops involving leads from
human resources and social services and others. Another encouraging
sign of strategic approaches is the study by the Association of
Directors of Social Services Wales of appropriate salaries for
qualified social workers.

The problems with the modernisation agenda are characterised by:
one-off projects rather than mainstream change, custom and practice
instead of evidence-based services, and investment in traditional
services not based on strong commissioning. While there has not
been a sea change there are positive signs emerging.

There is the Wales Programme for Improvement developed out of Best
Value which has as its main principles continuous improvement,
effective management of performance, a whole-authority approach and
targeted action. Risk assessments will be done involving outside
regulators to help prioritise those services in greatest need of
attention. Social care managers understandably hope that this will
help highlight and prioritise needs for improvement in their area
and that resources will be allocated to help make the necessary

The performance management project run by the Social Service
Inspectorate Wales has given rise to several important initiatives
including consortiums of councils working together on shared
problems. One has worked on an information systems specification
and has developed to a point of being able to jointly procure

A series of performance management development days for managers
will be held later this year. Perhaps the area of commissioning is
one that has needed most attention in Wales and it would be a major
surprise if whole-authority assessments did not highlight this as a
priority area. Some local authorities have already sought to build
capacity and on an all-Wales basis there is a very active
commissioning officers grouping, which is playing a part in
identifying and addressing common problems.

One of the major challenges for local authorities in Wales is to
continue to develop ways of working in partnership with each other
as well across sectors. Sadly, although the Joint Review overview
report Pathways to Improved Social Services in Wales 2001-2
identified some important areas of improvement it found only
“limited evidence of authorities learning from the experience of
others, prior to their own Joint Review.”2 There is some
evidence that this is beginning to change.

Mike Thomas is co-ordinator of the All-Wales Support Unit
for Social Services

1 Audit Commission, Learning the Lessons from Joint Reviews of
Social Services in Wales 1999-2000, Audit Commission, October 2000

2 Joint Reviews, Pathways to Improved Social Services in Wales,
Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales,
October 2002

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