Show us the money

As any new pop star knows, sustaining the interest of your audience
after the initial blaze of publicity subsides is not easy.
Audiences are increasingly demanding and are quick to dismiss those
who don’t keep the hits coming.

Two months into her green paper tour, there are signs the followers
of new government act Margaret Hodge may be starting to wonder
whether their delegate fee has paid for anything more than the same
old tune.

Each of the children’s minister’s appearances follows a familiar
pattern: an impassioned speech on what prime minister Tony Blair
described as “the most far-reaching reform of children’s services
for 30 years” followed by a few audience requests for information
on what resources will be available to make the plans a

On the latter, Hodge is always markedly less forthcoming, leaving
many feeling that the event was something of an anticlimax. But
with the deadline for the consultation period growing ever closer,
professionals are tiring of Hodge’s stock response to questions
about resources, which is that by ridding the system of duplication
the green paper proposals will in fact save money rather than
require more.

Moreover, there is a growing uneasiness about the government’s
reluctance to provide definite answers on the question of how much
cash will be allocated. Radical reforms do not come cheap. However,
there is an obvious implication that there are many savings to be
made through some clever accounting, suggesting worrying
comparisons with the Children Act 1989. Supporters of the Act
believe its potential, especially around preventive work, was never
fulfilled because government did not provide the necessary
financial backing.

Alison King, chairperson of the Local Government Association’s
health and social affairs executive, says: “I am concerned about
where the money is going to come from. I am sure there are
economies that can be made because there is a lot of duplication. I
do not think we have ever found that an organisational structure
has saved lots of money.”

Cost-cutting features heavily in the vision on preventive work laid
out by government in the green paper. A child with a conduct
disorder at the age of 10 will have cost the public purse
£70,000 by the age of 28 – 10 times more than a child without
behavioural problems, adds the report.

But although most accept there are some long-term financial gains
to be made, the consensus is that, in the short term, money will
need to be ploughed into implementing the green paper.

Anne Williams, co-chairperson of the Association of Directors of
Social Services’ resources committee, says: “My view is that
children’s social services is a difficult area to manage in terms
of resource pressure. We should not go into this thinking there is
massive duplication and savings to be made. There may be savings in
10 or 15 years but, in the short term, identifying families could
to lead to increased referrals to social services.”

The ADSS is surveying the 20 local authorities which make up the
executive on the cost of implementing the structural proposals
within the green paper, the outcome of which will be known this

The ADSS is also working with the Department for Education and
Skills to identify all the existing funding streams that need to be
brought together when the education and social care budgets are
pooled in children’s trusts. The first part of the survey is asking
directors to assess the areas where they are under greatest
financial pressure, such as out-of-borough residential places and
foster placements by private agencies.

There will also be an examination of the standard spending
assessment (SSA) for children’s care compared with how much
councils are actually spending on children’s social services.

Williams says: “A lot of local authorities spend more on children’s
social care than the SSA and have to take money from other services
to pay for it.” She says there are also plans to examine the costs
of the identification, referral and tracking system and questions
on those pressures will be included in the annual ADSS survey. So
far, says Williams, costs of £500,000-600,000 are being
reported for the IT alone, without training the staff.

King says: “I do not think there is a local authority in the land
that has all its social workers on PCs and mobiles.” This indicates
that the cost of installing the technology and providing training
will be huge.

Massive investment will be needed to develop, for example, extended
schools, another key part of the green paper. Above all, though,
most agree that the biggest cash injection will need to go into the

Paul Ennals, chief executive of the National Children’s Bureau,
says the new lead professional role alone will be costly because
“they will be carrying out an added function and have to work more

He adds that more staff will be needed to cover more clients, in
itself highlighting the biggest obstacle to implementing the green
paper – staff numbers.

Researcher and former social worker Rachel Hetherington says more
preventive work, which is at the heart of the document, will be
possible only if workers are allowed the time to build
relationships with their clients. But as the number of social
workers dwindles that possibility becomes increasingly remote,
especially when the sector’s reputation is so poor.

King says: “We need the right number and calibre of staff. That is
going to be costly. We need more speech therapists, educational
psychologists and other workers all the way down the line.

“The other day I was in my car listening to the radio when I heard
someone say that social work had become a pariah profession, and I
thought ‘is that really how people see it?’ But that is what we are
dealing with.”

Caroline Abrahams, head of policy at charity NCH, says: “If the
government wants to make inroads, especially in areas where it is
difficult to recruit, they need more people and, at the end of the
day, what you pay people is crucial.”

Although the feeling is that there will be pots of money for
initiatives such as Sure Start, there are fears that the government
is optimistically expecting that the restructuring will be

There will be a lot of finger crossing that next summer’s spending
review will prove fruitful for the green paper. As Ennals puts it:
“The green paper proposes radical change and that costs money. If
the government is not able to find extra money the changes will
still happen, but much more slowly.”

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