‘It’s outcomes that really matter – not structures’

While many local authorities are busy getting to grips with separate adult social care and children’s services departments, Surrey Council has just announced plans to bring them together.

The council merged education with children’s social care and split off adults’ services in 2001, but now plans to create a families’ directorate combining all three.

“We have decided to do it because we want to make sure we work flexibly across services wherever that adds value,” says Richard Shaw, chief executive of the council. “There are a lot of synergies across those services. For instance, both children’s and adults’ services deal with transitions and share several of the same partners.”

He says that merged departments will also prevent duplication and enable best practice to be shared more easily between services. Integration will take place at the top of the department and in areas where there are benefits, such as in procurement of equipment. He says combining children’s and adults’ services would not be appropriate for most front-line working.

“There’s a lot of benefits from learning lessons in one area and applying it to another area. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. I don’t want two different sets of people not talking to each other and coming up with similar solutions.”

He denies that the move is driven by a desire to cut costs and says the council is set to consult on proposals to increase the number of front-line social care staff. Although the council is carrying out an efficiency review in a bid to cut costs by £139m over five years, Shaw says it actually hopes to increase its investment in adult social care by an extra £5m a year and will not cut its children’s social care budget.

A director for family services will lead the new department and Shaw says this post will be at a higher level than the council’s current director of children’s services and director of adults’ services. The new role could have been called deputy chief executive, he says. “It will be more strategic and less operational than a normal director role would be.”

He says the family director role meets the government’s requirement that councils with social services’ responsibilities should have a director of children’s services -it will just have extra duties.

Under the government’s reorganisation of health services, Surrey Council is set to be coterminous with one primary care trust, so Shaw says it is sensible to have one strategic director to work with the PCT. 

The social care and health white paper will bring about more joint working between the two areas and Shaw says he wants to appoint somebody who can help to shape Surrey’s response to the reforms.

“We are already working closely with the health service and we are in discussions now. As our boundaries come together we are going to work even more closely,” he says.

An advertisement for the director for family services position will appear this week and Shaw hopes to have recruited someone by the spring. Paul Gray, the council’s current executive director for children and young people, is due to leave Surrey by then, and Shaw says that Alan Adams, its executive director for adults and community care, will be free to apply for positions in the new structure.

Despite the major reorganisation, Shaw is adamant that the impact of services on users is the most important thing. “We shouldn’t become pre-occupied with structures – it’s outcomes that really matter,” he concludes.

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