Social work practice pilot dropped because of service restructure

Creation of generic social work teams prompts Birmingham council to take physical disability social work service back in-house.

Birmingham council has stopped its adult social work practice pilot as a result of a restructure of adult social care teams in the city.

The services previously operated by the Activ8 pilot, which supported clients with physical disabilities and was run by local social care charity BID Services, have now been taken back in-house by the council, along with its staff.

Activ8 was one of seven social work practice pilots, initiated by the Department of Health in 2011 to test the contracting out of statutory adult social work functions from local authorities to independent organisations. Though they were originally due to conclude this year, the DH extended their lifespan to March 2014 last year. Though the pilot was managed by BID, all staff were employed by the council.

The decision to take the services back in-house was made to tie in with the development of generic social work teams based around local communities within Birmingham, replacing previous client based teams. The council said the development of these teams were designed to foster the transfer of knowledge and skills between staff from different client disciplines and increase the take-up of personal budgets and direct payments. The council is also consulting on the future of its adults’ services to manage the impact of government funding cuts.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence, which is managing the social work practice pilots process, commissioned Bristol University to identify learning points from them regarding the delivery of social work by social enterprises and other independent organisations.

In its report on Activ8, the Bristol research team said staff transferred to the pilot felt they had a stronger voice in the delivery of services and were more able to be creative in how they worked with service users. However, the report also said this was limited by the council retaining control over areas such as IT, adminstration and staff appraisal.

A separate evaluation of the effectiveness the social work practice pilots is being carried out for the Department of Health by King’s College London’s Social Care Workforce Research Unit. It is due to conclude later this year.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said Birmingham’s withdrawal would not affect the evaluation as the data collection phase had already concluded.

“We are grateful to the staff and service users in Birmingham, and across the country, who have taken part in this scheme,” she added.

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