‘My work has a moral aspect’

The Department of Health’s Richard Allman talks to Mithran Samuel about making social services more businesslike

If, as the government is suggesting, councils will have to find extra money for adult care from efficiency savings in the future, the role of people like Richard Allman will be crucial.

As director of the Department of Health’s Care Services Efficiency Delivery (CSED) team, his remit is to deliver a Gershon efficiency target of £684m for adult social care from 2005 to 2008 by advising councils on ways to save money.

He took the job last November after a 30-year career in financial services and consultancy but no social care experience.

Allman recognised the tension: “My worry was how credible I would be with 150 social services directors.”

But his fears were soon allayed. He says directors recognised he could  offer them the commercial and financial skills so underdeveloped in local government.

It has also helped that his team of 22 consultants – all of whom, like Allman, are on interim contracts – includes a former social services director and others with experience of the sector.

Directors have had the chance to buy into the idea that private sector skills are crucial to public service outcomes. But for practitioners there remains resistance, about which Allman says: “We don’t delude ourselves that people like consultants.”

He says CSED seeks to counter this by working in the field, understanding how councils work and involving front-line practitioners– as opposed to sending out top-down directives from the centre.

But Allman faced another credibility problem with CSED. Set up in 2004, it was based initially in the DH’s commercial directorate, which is responsible for value for money, cutting it off from the delivery of social care policy.

Last summer, it was transferred to the Care Services Improvement Partnership, whose main purpose is to aid social care delivery. Allman says this has helped but adds that, when he took over, local authorities “hadn’t had any delivery whatsoever”. He made delivering advice to local authorities his top priority, adding: “We’ve worked very rapidly in the past nine months.”

He says CSED will not be able to work with every council so sharing best practice is vital, something he claims is happening across the West Midlands and North West with the referral, assessment and care management initiative (see Care Services Efficiency Delivery Team).

An important part of CSED’s work is its re-ablement scheme, which is intended to show how councils can prevent users needing acute social care by investing in rehabilitative services, along the lines outlined in the health and social care white
paper. Although this is seen as desirable, councils have been unable to meet acute needs while investing in prevention within current budgets.

Indeed, many are tightening eligibility criteria.

Allman says CSED’s role is to make the business case “that will convince directors to make the leap of faith”. It is working with 11 councils looking at the outcomes and costs of preventive investment.

His contract runs until March 2007, but he is keen to continue until the stated end of CSED’s lifespan the following March.

Allman sees a direct connection between his work and improved outcomes for service users, despite its technical nature:
“There’s a real moral element. I honestly believe we are doing the right thing.”

Care Services Efficiency Delivery team schemes
● Electronic home care monitoring – replacing paper-based timesheets for staff and methods of monitoring contracts with providers with automated systems to cut administrative costs and improve performance management. CSED has produced a guide and is holding workshops.
● Referral assessment and care management – analysing processes to see whether they can be streamlined. Being piloted across the North West and West Midlands.

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