‘I’m proudest of our partnerships with the private sector’, says deputy turned director

Iain MacBeath

Iain MacBeath has only been director of adult social services at Hertfordshire for two months but having served as its deputy director for six years he admits it is familiar territory.

He says he also has an advantage because his former boss was Sarah Pickup, now deputy chief executive of Hertfordshire and immediate past president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.

“Not only did I learn a lot from her, but because her schedule was so busy I often found myself deputising for her on some high profile boards and meetings – such as the prime minister’s dementia challenge. So I don’t feel too daunted by the job.”

Career path

A willingness to turn his hand at most jobs has seen him take an unusual route into adult social services senior management.

“After I left university I went into a job centre to sign-on and they said, “you’ve got a degree, you should be on this side of the counter” so I did. Then I saw a job come up for a trainee social worker job in Barnsley and I was going to apply. But another job came up for an IT project in the children’s social care department in Barnsley so I went for that instead.

“At the time there were hardly any computers in social work. If there was one it would sit in a solitary corner of the room while everyone passed it by with looks of deep suspicion.”

The IT project led to work around performance indicators and a five-year foray in the probation service, which then led to a move into adult social care.

Regret over social work

“I never ended up getting my social work degree, which I do regret because I have a massive respect for social workers and the kind of life-changing service they deliver,” he says.

MacBeath was happy to get the director’s job because it means he can see through a number of projects he had already started in Hertfordshire. These include its partnerships with Serco, which delivers initial assessments, scheduled reviews and brokerage on behalf of the council, and Goldsborough Home Care, which provides the county’s reablement service. He has also overseen the establishment of an e-marketplace, to enable people to purchase care and support online.

While the outsourcing of council care management functions may cause concern in certain quarters, MacBeath says: “The Serco partnership works really well. Even though we get our payslips from different organisations no one would know because we all sit together and we all have the same aims.”

Cutting costs while increasing quality

McBeath is adamant that being a director of social care is one of the few jobs where cutting costs and increasing quality actually can, and do, go hand-in-hand.

“I honestly don’t feel that it’s all doom and gloom.”

He says the changes to the NHS this year, with the establishment of clinical commissioning groups, are a very good thing and “there are a huge number of win/wins we can gain from it”.

He points out there are too many cases where social care and health currently provide services that either contradict, or at the very least, fail to complement each other.

“A classic case is our reablement service, which is about trying to get people to do things for themselves. We had one lady who was doing really well – dressing herself and making breakfast – and the care worker was coming in afterwards to check it had been done and she was ok. But the district nurse arrived first, did it all for her and told her she shouldn’t be doing it. It gets very frustrating.”

The only thing able to slightly dent his overwhelmingly positive attitude is money, or the lack of it. He admits it will always be a problem and provide the biggest challenges, particularly when it comes to the packages of care that can now be provided.

“It costs nothing to be kind but it’s also pretty difficult to live on a carer’s wage and I’m very conscious of that. I’m very conscious that nobody could say people are getting generous care packages any more.”

MacBeath on…

A social care leader must be….resilient with an eye for quality and a good sense of humour!

If I wasn’t a social work director I’d be…in some kind of job that deals with people. I might be on a till at Tesco’s or I might be in a business or charity but I wouldn’t be working on my own.

I’m most inspired by…frontline staff. When I took on this job I was determined to spend as much time with frontline teams as I could and when I see what they do every day and the changes they can make to people’s lives, I do find it very inspiring.

My staff describe me as… hopefully competent! Approachable, busy, humorous and not afraid to take tough decisions.

I’m kept awake at night by…quality and money, particularly worrying about how we continue to squeeze prices and still keep quality high.

The government could make my job easier by…providing more money! Or at least being a bit more specific when they do. For example, the recent £3.8bn joint budget [announced in the spending review] – they haven’t specified it should come from hospital NHS budgets because that is fundamental. But nonetheless it is welcome and we are planning great things on integration with that money.

I’m proudest of…the innovative partnerships we’ve entered into with the private sector- like our new telecare project, where we’ve partnered with the British Red Cross and a telecare technology provider. It’s been going for less than a month with only about 65 people involved but I’ve already had four delightful letters from families telling me what a massive difference it has made to their lives.

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