‘Social workers not consulted on outsourcing their services’

Union activists have accused Surrey Council of attempting to hive off its service for deaf people without consulting social work staff. Unison national officer Helga Pile (pictured) has said the government is struggling to interest councils in social work practice pilots.

Union activists have accused Surrey Council of attempting to hive off its service for deaf people without consulting social work staff.

Unison has claimed the council failed to inform social workers of its intention to take part in the government’s social work practice pilot scheme ahead of applying.

The pilots, which are expected to start this summer, are based on existing practices for looked-after children. The Department of Health said it hoped social work practices would provide social workers with more control over their day-to-day practice.

Under Surrey Council’s proposals, services for people who are deaf or hard of hearing would be provided by a social enterprise comprised of former council staff.

But Paul Couchman, branch secretary of Surrey County Unison, said he had several concerns about the proposals, including the possible fragmentation of services, future changes to staff terms and conditions and the threat of privatisation by the back door.

He said: “There may not be sufficient resources to adequately fund the social enterprise and the current external care market is, if anything, suffering even more than the statutory sector from funding cuts.

“Once the initial government start-up funding has gone the financial situation will become precarious.”

Couchman added: “Surrey Council applied to be part of the social work practice pilot without any prior consultation with staff involved.

“The proposed outsourcing of deaf services is just another way of saving money and relinquishing local authority responsibility for a vital public service; we hope our members will see through the spin and vote to remain in house.”

But a spokesperson for the council argued that social workers taking part in the pilot would have “more freedom and flexibility to manage themselves”.

“They will be able to spend more time directly with the people they support and be more creative about the way they work by jointly developing services,” the spokesperson added.

“We were already developing plans with deaf people to do things differently but better because they told us they want a service independent of the council. This pilot provides the opportunity to test those plans.”

Unison last year called on local members to boycott Sandwell Council’s social work practice for looked-after children.

The authority subsequently dropped out of the scheme, citing a need to concentrate on restructuring its children’s social care department.

Meanwhile, the Department for Education has hit back at claims that councils in England are not interested in the children’s pilots.

Unison’s national officer, Helga Pile, said the government was “really struggling to get people interested” after a Freedom of Information request by Community Care revealed only 10 councils had expressed a desire to take part in the second wave of pilots, with a further six submitting detailed proposals.

But a spokesperson for the department said: “One reason the response to the pilots has not been higher is that many local authorities are significantly restructuring their services and lack capacity to make other changes at present, despite an interest in the concept.”

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