Additional public funding to implement the recommendations outlined by the Social Work Task Force will not be ring-fenced, children’s secretary Ed Balls told a press conference today.
Speaking at the launch of the final taskforce report, Balls said he would not “mandate” spending decisions on improving social work taken by English councils, despite the squeeze on budgets for local services in the current recession.
However, Balls (pictured) did single out child safeguarding budgets as a priority area for local government finances – a key message of Lord Laming’s national review of child protection, published in March this year.
But while confirming that other spending decisions should be taken according to local needs, he urged the profession “to take a grip” on the reform programme and support its implementation, predicting the publication of the taskforce’s final report would prove a “watershed moment”.
“There is also a need for a strong voice from the profession to say there’s a need for this to be funded locally,” he added.
The government has accepted all of the recommendations of the taskforce reform programme, which will overhaul training, recruitment, and support from employers in England, but has yet to make any detailed funding announcements.
“There are going to be issues about resources for the next spending review and we’re going to have to make sure local authorities set their budgets properly to prioritise the importance of child protection,” Balls said.
He added that ensuring consistency of social work practice wasn’t “only about resources, it’s about regulation, training, and professional standards”, adding that the new reform programme board would help take the recommendations forward.
When asked about the challenges of implementing wide-ranging proposals for social work in the current financial climate, taskforce chair Moira Gibb (pictured) admitted she “would have much preferred to have been doing this 10 years ago when the reforms to the teaching profession were happening”.
Gibb added: “Nevertheless it’s important not to say these things can’t be done – they need to be done and we have to make the most of the resources we’ve got.”
Directors’ warning on funding
The need for additional investment to enable councils to meet the requirements of the report, including the new standards on supervision and caseloads, was highlighted by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.
In a joint statement, the asssociations said: “The funding of social services is already under significant pressure – there is simply not the scope at a local level to meet the total resource demands of these recommendations, either in the short or longer term.
“Steps must be taken to ensure all available resources are focused on the frontline now, to allow local authorities the flexibility to make immediate improvements to the support available to social workers. In the longer term the financial impact of these new responsibilities must be assessed and provided for.”
However, speaking at the press conference, Gibb stressed that existing resources could be used more effectively, while other policies, such as the reduction in the number of placement days – from 200 to 130 per student – would lead to savings.
“We need to make sure money goes as far as possible,” she said.
Health secretary Andy Burnham said the social work reform programme would be crucial to delivering the government’s “ambitious plans” for a National Care Service, set out in the recent green paper on adult social care.
Burnham added that he had been struck by the number of young people in his constituency expressing a willingness to make a difference in people’s lives, and said social work would be the ideal career choice for many of them.
“The challenge is to help them understand that social work is a way of making that difference – the potential for that is huge.”