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
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
“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
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
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
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
In October 2004, Welsh first minister Rhodri Morgan set out his
vision for the future of Welsh public services in Making the
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”.
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
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