Community Care, readers’ letters, November 5, 2009

Don’t overlook the drawbacks of CICs

Your recent article (“History in the re-making”) encourages social workers to form social enterprises such as community interest companies (CICs) as an alternative way of delivering services.

It should have made mention of the fact that CICs are “asset-locked”, meaning that social workers who invested their own money to form one wouldn’t have much freedom to ever get it back.

The rules are complex, but I understand the money invested in the CIC is supposed to belong to the community rather than the investors. So, if a social worker wanted to dispose of their interest in a CIC (for example to fund their retirement), the asset-locking and capped dividends would have a tremendous effect on the sale value of the business.

It may also be worth bearing in mind that CICs contract with their local government clients as if they were companies; and commercial contracts can potentially make demands that wouldn’t be legal in an employment contract. For example, it is possible to only pay a CIC in return for meeting certain performance targets.

One can speculate endlessly about why the state might be keen to trade with social workers through CICs, but as with any investment the message should be for people to “look before they leap”.

David Hill, development director, Sanctuary Social Care, Information about CICs can be found at

Somerset sickness record not so bad

Your article on social worker sickness rates (“Haringey has lowest social worker sickness rate“) used information provided from a Freedom of Information request. I stressed, when given an opportunity to comment at the time, that I believed the figure to be inaccurate and not consistent with our regular sickness monitoring.

I can now say that the discrepancy arose because the figures provided had not been based on a correct understanding of the question and reflected the average sickness levels of those who had been off sick for longer than three days.

In fact the level of sickness absence across all social work specialisms within Somerset council is 7.1 calendar days per social worker, well below the national average.

It is worth noting that the data from all the authorities will relate to this wider group and not just to children’s social care as implied in the article.

As a council we are committed to supporting staff attendance at work. In the past we have conducted council-wide stress audits, we provide a confidential, independent counselling service, promote work-life balance policies and focus on support during supervision. In addition, we try to minimise the number of vacant posts and have introduced recruitment and retention schemes.

Linda Barnett, head of service of children’s social care, Somerset County Council

Don’t blame Deidre for Sun coverage

I have watched with sadness Deidre Sanders being pilloried as an individual for a campaign that is the responsibility of her employers. Lashing out blame on Sanders simply mirrors the behaviour of The Sun.

Social work has great difficulty explaining what it does to the public. This is not surprising as social work’s responsibility sits firmly in areas of great uncertainty about what will or will not be effective in helping people whose problems have resisted any other approach.

All I know from working with Sanders for a year on a child protection commission is that her values, her commitment to improving people’s lives and her integrity, were entirely consistent with those of social work.

The agony aunt service at The Sun was very highly valued by its readers, very professional in its approach and her staff got a level of support that would have been the envy of most social workers.

Daphne Statham, Former director of the National Institute for Social Work

Bullying advice was a bit heavy-handed

Although the technical information given by Hope Daley in the Career Clinic on bullying (“How do I manage my team without being accused of bullying?” was good, I think the enquirer might have welcomed some supportive comments as well.

A manager may approach the difficult task of poor performance with trepidation and thus do it less well than they would wish. However, there are staff who shout “bullying and harassment” whenever they are picked up on performance. This article would have been more helpful if it had looked at how to reflect on the tone, language and setting of the encounter and whether the manager had prepared beforehand or taken advice from more experienced colleagues.

It is a pity that it focused on the hard end of involving HR and unions at this early stage. If we go into situations with this attitude the interaction is bound to fail as it is confrontational.

Name and address supplied

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