Verdict on ADSS Good while it lasted but we must move on

This week, the Association of Directors of Social Services is being officially wound up after a 36-year existence spanning the lifetime of council social services departments. The death knell will sound at the annual spring seminar for directors, this year under the auspices of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, one of ADSS’s two successor bodies, alongside the Association of Directors of Children’s Services. Below, honorary secretaries and presidents from different decades discuss ADSS’s contribution during their time at the helm and the changes in the body’s relationship with government.


Tom White, president in 1974, director of social services in Coventry from 1970-5 and the first director to take up post

What did ADSS contribute to this decade?
All directors of social services were in post by 1 April 1971 when social services departments came into existence. The ADSS was formed soon after that at a meeting in Nottingham. Local government was a bit more staid then.

Previously, chief officers were seen as advisers to the national local authority organisations (the County Councils Association and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, which in 1997 combined to form the Local Government Association).

From the beginning, ADSS started to be influential as an independent organisation rather than through the wider local authority role. It generated some tension with the local government organisations which thought that professional organisations shouldn’t be involved in politics and should work through the elected members.

What was ADSS’s relationship with government like at this time?
In effect, we had to break the mould [for professional organisations] and have direct relationships with ministers. We did that with the Labour government when Harold Wilson was prime ­minister and the Heath government. ADSS had influence on all the changes that came after all the legislation affecting social services.

What do you think are the implications of not having one body representing directors now?
It reflects the organisation of local government. [But] I have some anxieties about whether the changes are going to work for the benefit of children and young people.


Herbert Laming, president of ADSS in 1982 and director at Hertfordshire Council 1975-91

What did ADSS contribute to this decade?
The main achievement was the development of community care services with social services in the lead. For most people in social care, institutions were the accepted place for them. What community care did was recognise that most of those people could be helped to live independently in the community and that was a major change.

What was ADSS’s relationship with government like at this time?
ADSS had to work hard in the early years to be recognised by government but by the time I became president we were welcomed by them.

What do you think are the implications of not having one body representing directors now?
Once the decision was made that adult services would be in the Department of Health and children’s would be in the Department for Education and Skills it seemed to me that the split [in social services departments] was sensible. [The ADCS] has the strength of representing the most senior managers and having access to specialist knowledge.


Bob Lewis, honorary secretary from 1988-92 and president from 1995-6. He was director at Stockport Council from 1987-99

What did ADSS contribute to this decade?
There was a change in policy after Sir Roy Griffiths did his review of community care for the Tory government (see Laming’s comments, above). It was touch and go about whether it was going to be accepted. The Conservatives weren’t very keen on giving power to local authorities. It required a lot of discussions with the Department of Social Security because they were the ones that were going to transfer their budgets to local authorities.

There was also the Children Act 1989 and we were able to persuade a number of politicians to make amendments to that when it was a bill.

What was ADSS’s relationship with government like at this time?
It was a time that you could influence policy. When I was secretary I went quite a few times to Downing Street when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and then John Major as they were finalising the policies on community care.

There was a high amount of goodwill towards ADSS so if you wanted to see a minister or a senior civil servant you had only to ask. That was unique among senior officer groups compared with other professionals.

I think it’s a credit to ­colleagues of recent years that they have maintained that ­position. It’s more complex than it was a few years ago because there are more players in central government. You have to talk to the Treasury, you have to talk to the policy unit at Number 10 etc.

What do you think are the implications of not having one body representing directors now?
It was the right decision to make. [But] a front that you have to watch is the transition of children to adult services.

Andrew Williamson was honorary secretary from 1996-9. He became director at Devon in 1990

What did ADSS contribute to this decade?
The presence and value of the social worker in multi-disciplinary environments was acknowledged by government.

We didn’t do badly in terms of government funding for some aspects of social care, and then there was the whole development of adult protection.

What was ADSS’s relationship with government like at this time?
It felt that if we wanted to talk to government the door was open. It didn’t mean we won every discussion.

What do you think are the implications of not having one body representing directors now?
If the associations can stick together the social work voice will carry a lot of clout.


Liz Railton, honorary secretary 2002-6 and director of children’s services at Essex from 2003 to January 2007

What has ADSS contributed to this decade?
Towards the end of the 1990s and into 2000 there was a major preoccupation with performance. In 1997 we had a Labour government and the development of stricter performance regimes. The ADSS supported the focus on performance but we also needed to understand ourselves what made for good performance. We had debates about what were the things directors needed to pay attention to that added up to good performance. We were highly focused on that.

During the early part of the decade the relationship with the health service was big and there was a new health act about pooling budgets and trying to get the services to work together.

There was also a major issue of delayed discharge fines for councils in 2001-2. We had serious concerns about that but we managed to get more money put into the system. In 2002-3 there was all the debate about the Every Child Matters agenda. ADSS was very involved in that and developed that policy. There was also the creation of the influential [on Every Child Matters] inter-agency group. ADSS learned to build allegiances and work with other partners rather than work on its own.

I think we have had much wider networks in more recent years than we started with at the beginning of the decade.

What was ADSS’s relationship with government at this time?
We had a growing relationship with what was still a relatively new government at the beginning of the decade and we were trying to forge relationships, get the balance right and become a critical friend.

What do you think are the implications of not having one body representing directors now?
It has to be a positive thing in the sense that the world has changed. [But] there are risks in that children have parents and the most vulnerable children often have vulnerable parents. Also, children grow into adulthood. Both organisations will need to work together.

An outsider’s view
Ray Jones, social services director at Wiltshire from 1992-2006, chair of the British Association of Social Workers from May 2006 to January 2007

What do you think ADSS’s relationship with government was like just before it was wound up?

It’s been a very difficult time for the ADSS in terms of working on its relationship with government. When the Social Services Inspectorate in the Department of Health was disbanded in 2003 the government’s own social care expertise was lost and ADSS found itself being drawn into providing expertise for the government.

Consequently, over recent years ADSS has had a difficult decision to take in terms of how close it is to government or how much it emphasises and portrays its independence. There’s still a tension for ADSS and the new organisations over how much it’s useful to make strong public statements that might be challenging to the government or how much to have those conversations behind closed doors.

The ADSS benefits from looking at alliances with organisations of service users and disabled people as well as having a major relationship with government. I would hope that in future the new organisations will continue to build alliances with others which may at times mean they are speaking more forcibly in opposition to government policies which they wish to challenge.

Do you think the ADSS was right to split? Have your say on our Discussion Forum



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