Experienced social work staff to be replaced by call centres

Hundreds of experienced social work staff are to be replaced by a call centre at Glasgow Council as part of a plan to save £180m over the next three years. (Pic credit: Rex)

Hundreds of experienced social work staff are to be replaced by a call centre at Glasgow Council as part of a plan to save £180m over the next three years.

Community Care has learned that the council has offered early retirement to all workers over 50, in a scheme which will cost £100m.

The offer has been taken up by 820 staff in the social work department – one in six of the department’s workforce of 4,900.

At the same time, social work staff will be deployed to a call centre, Social Care Direct, which the council said would provide “administrative support” to frontline teams.

Meanwhile around 100 trainees, who will qualify as social workers over the next three years, will be used to boost staff numbers.

Although qualified social workers and children’s home workers are excluded from the early retirement programme, the 820 staff who have submitted applications include social care workers, social care assistants, support staff and administrative staff. The staff will learn whether their applications will be accepted by the end of this month.

The council expects to save £65m per year as workers taking early retirement leave over the next three years, while leaders have pledged to cut spending in the authority by £180m over the next three years.

A spokesperson for the council said: “This was an area which was already undergoing a process of service redesign, which would see the workforce profile rebalanced to introduce a better differential between staff performing care tasks and management.

“The social work department has to work within the financial constraints affecting the whole council, but it is hoped that the service reforms the department is currently undertaking will lessen the impact of those who take early retirement.”

He said that social workers would continue to receive IT and administrative support, adding: “A new programme called Social Care Direct, which will involve trained social work staff in a call centre setting, will provide further administrative support.”

The spokesperson added that the call centre would “allow qualified staff to be involved in the first point of telephone contact and assist with initial assessments. It will also free up staff who had previously fielded calls to undertake other tasks.”
He was unable to confirm which qualifications staff working in the call centre would be expected to hold.

The British Association of Social Workers warned the schemes would prove to be a “major loss” for the council and a sign of things to come nationwide.

Nushra Mansuri, joint manager for BASW England, said: “Losing experienced administrative staff could be quite destabilising. The bureaucracy burden has already grown out of all proportion for social workers.

“I imagine Glasgow is not alone in thinking about how to reduce its spending, but care workers, admin and support staff are critical.”

Ronnie Stevenson, Unison’s social work convenor at the council, said the authority was underestimating the impact the plans would have. “Non-frontline staff are absolutely essential for the delivery of services,” he said.

However, Mansuri acknowledged that early retirement could be a good option for experienced social care staff.

Glasgow Council is offering employees aged over 50 additional pension contributions and a lump sum worth up to 30 weeks’ pay. It is to be phased in over the next three years.

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