Shared Experience

    Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration is the new mantra of
    Welsh social services. No longer will care services work in
    isolation, or follow the English model of competing with each
    other. Instead, councils will look to share expertise and workers,
    because pulling together is seen as the way to success.

    This vision came out of the inaugural Welsh social services summit
    in December 2004. To make it a reality the Welsh Local Government
    Association (WLGA) is developing a blueprint which it will present
    to ministers in the spring.

    This ray of hope could not be more timely. The Social Services
    Inspectorate for Wales found a “disappointing outcome” for the
    first round of joint reviews, where no authorities were judged to
    be in the top two service categories of serving people well overall
    or of serving most people well.

    Chief inspector Graham Williams highlighted the need for developing
    a “sharing and learning culture both within and between
    authorities” as a way of improving services.

    But critics say that, although the plans are strong on principle,
    they are weak on detail – and are concerned about how they will hit
    workers and organisations on the ground.

    A key theme in the blueprint is the possible sharing of workers
    between local authorities and the creation of single
    cross-authority teams.

    Some say staff concerns have been overlooked, and argue that change
    will occur only when problems facing the “overstretched” social
    care workforce in Wales are addressed.

    Paul Elliott, Wales Unison spokesperson, says those eagerly pushing
    forward the blueprint should recognise that staff “are the most
    important asset” in the new agenda. “While we recognise that this
    could be a big, radical agenda, it won’t work without staff
    acceptance and co-operation,” he says. “If councils pool their
    resources by sharing staff, they must ensure workers’ safeguards
    for staff. Without this there will be no change.”

    Elliott is concerned that sharing staff between councils could mean
    already “overstretched” workers would have to take on bigger
    workloads. His answer: cap caseloads and improve pay for staff
    working across more than one local authority.

    Penny Lloyd, professional officer for the Wales branch of the
    British Association of Social Workers, says that, although sharing
    workers and expertise would be beneficial in principle, the
    workforce is not big enough to accommodate the plans.

    “There are not enough staff to go round as it is, let alone to be
    shared,” she says. “Recruitment and retention problems have to be
    tackled before this blueprint becomes effective.”

    But Beverlea Frowen, WLGA head of policy, believes that recruitment
    and retention are “chicken-and-egg” issues as far as the blueprint
    is concerned.

    “While it’s true to say that if workers on the ground are
    hard-pressed and have a high vacancy rate in their department,
    helping another local authority will not be the first thing on
    their mind,” she admits. “But once local authorities improve
    through collaborating with each other, the pressure will die down
    and it will be easier to address the recruitment problems.”

    Frowen’s joined-up vision informs her rationale: “By pulling
    together we can create a better working environment that more
    people will be attracted to.” She is also keen to state that the
    approach is not new, but tried and tested.

    “There are many examples of good practice in shared working
    arrangements – we are just seeking to formalise this as a blueprint
    for the whole of Wales,” she says.

    One example has been the creation of a single cross-authority
    adoption service for Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Camarthenshire
    (see panel).

    The three authorities joined forces in 2002 in response to the
    demands set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the
    government’s drive to promote adoption. A team of four senior
    social workers drawn from each authority serves about 360,000
    people.
    The results of this joint working initiative – along the lines of
    the WLGA blueprint – have been positive.

    David Halse, head of child care commissioning at Pembrokeshire,
    says pooling resources has worked due to “excellent” relationships
    between the councils. He says: “The developments in the blueprint
    are positive, particularly where they involve specialist areas.
    Improvement and added value are definite outcomes.”

    But Lloyd says the reorganisation necessary for such changes across
    Wales could lead to increased bureaucracy. “The required layer of
    management for restructuring could cost a lot of money,” she
    says.

    Frowen disagrees. “This is not about structural change – it’s about
    better commissioning and use of existing resources.”

    Frowen also wants to dispel the idea that individual local
    authorities and workers could feel “taken over” by the plans. “This
    is about mutual support in the face of a challenging agenda,” she
    says. She also emphasises there will be “a lot of freedom” for
    councils in deciding how to take forward the blueprint with any
    protocol created “from the bottom up”.

    Despite his concerns over the blueprint, Unison Wales’s Elliott
    concedes that the plans could lead to “a distinctive social care
    agenda”, depending on how far local authorities want to push
    it.

    MINISTER’S VISION
    In October 2004, Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan set out his
    vision for the future of Welsh public services in Making the
    Connections.

    It was based on a rejection of the competitve “consumer choice”
    model being followed in England, in favour of voluntary
    collaboration and joint working between public bodies.

    The Welsh assembly also established a £32m fund on “an
    invest to save” basis to support joint working, alongside a
    £600m savings target in the Welsh public sector.

    In response, the Welsh Local Government Association approved the
    vision and held a social services summit in December 2004 where
    they outlined their vision and agreed to develop a blueprint “to
    take a collective responsibility for the reputation and performance
    of social services in Wales”.

    JOINED-UP THINKING
    Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire’s single
    cross-authority adoption service was set up in 2002 to encourage
    consistent practice in west Wales.

    A senior social worker from one of the councils was appointed to
    manage the team.  Social workers were drawn from existing
    teams.

    The Welsh assembly funded the team through the Children First
    programme.  This paid for a manager, an adminstrator and additional
    social worker time.

    Staff remain within their boundaries for most of their daily
    work but there are a lot of activities across all three authority
    area, inlcuding training for field social workers.

    A senior management group meets quarterly to monitor progress,
    receive management information and link to the west Wales adoption
    panel.  There is a lead principal operational manager based in each
    authority.

    More from Community Care

    Comments are closed.