|f you thought the interim report by the experts reviewing
social work in Scotland was controversial, its chair Willy Roe has
a surprise for you. The next phase of the review will go even
When the 21st Century Review Group published its interim report
– or, as Roe refers to it, emerging findings – last month it caused
quite a stir. There was severe criticism from the Convention of
Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) and the Association of Directors
of Social Work (ADSW), who described it as giving an “overly
negative” view of the profession.
But Roe, a management consultant and former chair of a council
social services committee, is unapologetic, and suggests this is
exactly what he wanted.
“I’m pleased that the interim report has stimulated real debate.
When the education and training minister [Peter Peacock] launched
the review he said he wanted a fundamental review of social work
looking ahead 20 years, a whole generation. That implies change
rather than the status quo,” he explains.
And Roe is adamant that the toughest issues still have to be
addressed by his 13-member review group team and the various
subgroups looking into specific aspects of the profession.
“Areas such as the investment and effort in prevention, and the
balance between early intervention and crisis management that we
still have to get into, are more controversial.”
Be under no illusions. The review, which was set up last summer
and is due to report its findings and recommendations to ministers
in the autumn, is looking at how the whole social services system
in Scotland works – from training and professional practice to the
methods of delivering services.
For Roe, the three big “emerging issues” are: to what extent
councils provide services, how social workers spend their time, and
the client choice agenda.
“The emerging evidence shows there is little time for social
workers to do prevention work. But also there are ways to intervene
that can reduce and prevent situations from developing. If social
workers do that, they can make a very big difference to people’s
“What should be the role of local authorities across the whole
spectrum of social work and services? Should it be confined to
being a planning and commissioning and standards setting body or
should it be a provider of some services? Should it be a provider
of all services or only where the state has a coercive role, such
as when sectioning people or taking children into care?
“There is an unstoppable trend towards people wanting services
tailored to their needs rather than standard set services. Users
and carers say they want to build a pattern of services that suit
them. In that more demanding environment, where people are
increasingly less willing to accept what’s on offer with standard
services, how do we build in choice?”
At last month’s Cosla annual conference, finance and public
service reform minister Tom McCabe indicated that not every council
needed its existing quota of top-tier management, including social
work directors. Roe says the role of managers is central to the
review and adds he will look at the management structure of
departments and how they relate to other public services.
“Social work does not exist in isolation – some clients of
social services are also clients of other statutory services.
“The most interesting one is the interface between health and
social care. As people live longer, the issues the NHS faces are
really very close to those faced by social services. We can’t
assume the traditional boundaries between what’s social work and
what’s health care are right for the future.”
Such comments are bound to increase fears in the social work
establishment that Roe and the review are pursuing a
government-driven agenda to break up traditional social work
departments and merge them with health, education and housing
services, similar to developments in England.
The ADSW recently articulated these concerns in a letter to the
Glasgow Herald newspaper, but Roe says he has no hidden agenda.
“People may have read things into my comments that aren’t so.
Ministers have given us a very broad and open brief. I am not
constrained by ministers, and the members of the review group have
been appointed as individuals and are independent,” he says.
And Roe denies accusations that the interim findings were based
on too narrow research and lacked a management perspective. He says
the findings focused initially on what constitutes a social worker
because this is at the core of the review.
“Social work groups will have every opportunity to influence
what the review group thinks. The ADSW and its members are the most
heavily represented body in our whole review, and ADSW chief
officers chair all the subgroups.
“I’ve spent six months speaking to users and carers, front-line
social workers and other related professions within health and
criminal justice. Now we’re working in six parts of Scotland in
depth. Social work directors and chief officers are only one
constituency in this, if an important one.”
But it’s easy to see why the ADSW and Cosla have been
disappointed with the interim report. It paints a picture of social
workers and departments that are risk-averse and defensive in their
decision-making and overly driven by processes rather than
“They take great care over processes and procedures, but that
has created something of a bureaucracy,” says Roe. “It is the job
of leaders and managers to maximise the effectiveness of the
resources they have and minimise bureaucracy.
“You get the growth of burdensome bureaucracy where you have
systems where there isn’t a lot of trust: it is used as a way of
controlling the actions of people. We need to find ways of
replacing a lot of the bureaucracy with more trusting
relationships. By empowering people in the front line to take more
responsibility you get more effective organisations.”
The skills of social workers will be addressed in the coming
months, and the review is looking closely at Glasgow Council’s use
of para-professionals to free up social workers to spend more time
on the front line.
Making greater use of technology is another theme to be explored.
And last month Roe visited the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology in Boston to see how new devices are being designed to
improve life for ageing populations and turn tomorrow’s world into
reality. Now Roe has to do the same for social work in