A guiding hand

Wales’ Social Services Improvement Agency is about to be launched. It is charged with identifying and  sharing best practice in the profession and working with councils to achieve success. Here, its lead consultant Chris Davies explains how it will work

In a move that epitomises a spirit of collaboration, the Welsh assembly and Welsh local councils have backed the Welsh Local Government Association in establishing a new Social Services
Improvement Agency.

The agency will want to capitalise on Wales’ advantages – the closeness of the “family”, the focus on co-operation rather than competition, and the priority given to public health and long-term

But it will also need to address its difficulties, including the small size of authorities and the shortage of strategic capacity. The agency will work with individual local authorities which face particular challenges or are striving to achieve excellence from which all can learn. We will help them specify what support they need and procure that cost-effectively from the best possible

We will develop a collaborative framework agreement with independent improvement consultancies and also identify and develop people within authorities (peers), who have much to offer  others, and will themselves gain in terms of career development.

Authorities that want to tackle similar issues will be grouped together and provided with expertise and access to the best possible knowledge and skill base. Three posts will be dedicated to
supporting regional groups of authorities to deliver better services and better value by sharing capacity and service delivery.

And a small team within the agency will concentrate on building databases of good practice, providing access to the evidence base, and offering opportunities for shared learning.

Whether a piece of work is with individual authorities or in groups, we will look for some lessons that all the other authorities in Wales can benefit from.

And our collaboration will extend across Offa’s Dyke, working especially closely with the Improvement and Development Agency and Social Care Institute for Excellence.

The board of the agency will meet shortly to agree the first year’s work programme. It includes representatives of the assembly government, the Welsh Local Government Association, and three directors of social services, with the inspectorates as observers.

But what difference will this make to people who need social care in Wales and those practitioners who provide them services?

In many parts of the country, the range of services available needs extending and modernising. Too often, services which will meet needs and preferences are not available to people managing their own care or to the care manager on their behalf.

Many councils face the challenge of redesigning significant parts of local services by overhauling their commissioning strategies and being guided in this by the evidence of what works best. The agency is likely to make that a major focus of its work.

The second emerging priority is assessment and care management. Everyone should aim to be prompt, efficient and wellinformed when responding to people’s needs, as well as being
courteous, personal, sensitive and humane.

In terms of user-groups, early attention is likely to be paid to looked after children (and importantly those on the brink of becoming looked after) and frail older people.

There is great strength in local authority social services in Wales, working both corporately and in partnership with the voluntary and independent sectors. The Welsh Local Government
Association hopes that the agency will make it possible to make faster progress by making better use of the available resources and capacity.

Chris Davies has just completed a two and a half year contract as social services
director at Cardiff Council and is a former president of the Association of
Directors of Social Services

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