The new president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services tells Jeremy Dunning that the next 12 months will be a time of delivering care differently as cuts start to bite
Richard Jones is expecting this year to be the toughest in living memory for social workers as the public sector faces severe cuts. But, as the incoming president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, he does not intend to bring out his begging bowl to plead for more government cash for council adult care departments.
The simple fact is services will have to be delivered differently.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies is predicting that services that neither the Tories nor Labour have pledged to protect, including social care, could face funding cuts of up to 25% from 2010-11 to 2014-15.
Jones, who is executive director for adult social care, community, cultural and customer services at Lancashire Council, says: “If we say we need more from government we won’t be heard at this time.”
But although it will be a tough time for the public sector, it is also likely to be one of the most reformist eras in adult social care history.
All three main political parties have acknowledged the necessity of reforming the sector’s funding model with levels of unmet need galloping out of control, but they have failed to agree on how to do so.
Both the Tories and Lib Dems rejected Labour’s care White Paper, published before parliament was dissolved.
Jones would not be drawn on the parties’ respective policies, but says finding consensus, across the political spectrum and among the public, would be vital, though difficult to achieve.
He is positive about Labour’s idea of setting up an independent commission to find a consensus on funding reform. It could be useful in engaging the public, he says, though the downside is the time it will take.
But before any reforms take place, councils will have to deal with immense funding pressures.
This means there will probably be further tightening of eligibility criteria for adult care, though Jones warns this would move authorities further away from the government’s idea of a “universal offer” of some support for all those in need.
However, he also believes this is the ideal time for reform as evidence emerges on how some services can be delivered for less.
This includes the Total Place pilots, where public bodies across an area take a joint approach to funding and commissioning services, and the Partnerships for Older People Projects, which involve early intervention to help pensioners maintain independence.
All these approaches depend upon social care working in close partnership with health, housing and others.
Jones says: “It requires resources to be shifted across the system. It means it can’t be solved by local authorities doing things on their own. It has to be woven into what health and others do and how they want to see resources used more efficiently.”
Echoing many in local government, Jones wants Whitehall to be clearer about the outcomes it wants from services and to give agencies more freedom on delivering these.
So he does not favour a top-down policy of structural integration between primary care trusts and councils. He says care trusts responsible for health and social care work well in areas such as Blackburn with Darwen, where there is a shared vision between the PCT and council, but would not be as successful elsewhere. Such an option can be costly, he points out.
Key for councils in the year ahead will be strong local leadership with health to develop a “narrative for change” with the public. This will involve addressing the fact that too many people are entering residential care or going into hospital when their needs could be met more cheaply and effectively in the community.
“It’s not just about doing more with less, but about doing different things with less,” he says.
His presidency coincides with the final year of the government’s Putting People First programme to personalise adult care.
Jones is a committed believer and sees it as positive that an estimated 200,000 people are now using a personal budget. Though numbers are rising, this represents a small fraction of the estimated 1.7m care users funded by councils in England, while authorities have a target of having 30% of users on a personal budget by next April.
Jones believes this is achievable but former adult services director, the consultant and blogger Terry Hawkins has warned that full-blown personalisation is unaffordable without significant staff cuts, including to social work jobs.
Jones is firm that personalisation should not be used as a front for saving money but is about delivering better services.
Indeed, he thinks it will be largely cost-neutral, though he adds there are signs it could save money.
He accepts it will lead to a different make-up in the skills required of social workers, but he does not envisage lower demand for frontline social workers.
“Some think personalisation will be the death-knell of social work but that’s ridiculous,” adds Jones, a member of the Social Work Task Force.
The recent statement on the future roles and tasks of adult social workers, co-produced by Adass, said practitioners needed a “broader set of activities and methodologies” to meet the challenges of personalisation.
But it suggested there were opportunities for practitioners in areas including supporting self-funders, advocacy and support planning.
Jones says: “There’s a role for qualified social workers within a personalised adult social care workforce. What we need to be clear about is what are those specific skills and competences that social workers provide and when and how you deploy them.”
On his position with any new government, Jones sees his role as one of engagement and “constructive conversations” and on ensuring good practice is shared.
This should not be taken to mean he would not be afraid to speak out if need be, he says with emphasis.
RICHARD JONES: A BIOGRAPHY
Richard Jones qualified as a social worker in 1984 and worked in practitioner and management roles in Bolton, Manchester, Cleveland and St Helens.
He was appointed St Helens’s director of social services in 1996 and moved to the Social Services Inspectorate in 2001 as assistant chief inspector.
In 2003 he became director of social services in Lancashire and in 2005 became executive director with responsibility for adult social care, community, cultural and customer services.
He has been chairman of the North West Joint Improvement Partnership for the past three years and was recently a member of the Social Work Task Force.
This article is published in the 22 April 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “The year of living frugally”