by Blair McPherson
My superpower would be to turn back time. I would not use my power to change major historical events, the complications would be too great. Although I am tempted to cancel that pre-eve of election victory rally that most political commentators believe cost Neil Kinnock the election and put John Major and the Conservative party back in office.
I would use my power to change things in my own life. I wouldn’t want to change much in my personal life because I would still want to end up where I am now, despite those difficult teenage years. I would have said the same about my professional life, that despite a few mistakes, the odd nightmare boss and the time I got sacked, I enjoyed going to work and (certainly latterly) I was well paid for it. However, recently I have been forced to change how I think about my time as a senior manager in local government.
I was always positive at work, I believed that the teams I worked in could change things for the better, that we were improving services even at a time when we were required to make efficiency savings and budget cuts. I helped deliver a lot of reorganisations and each time I was able to convince myself and colleagues that the benefits would outweigh the disruption and distraction. However in the past three years I have witnessed from a safe distance the dismantling, destruction and neglect of much of what I spent my career building.
When I left, my senior post was not filled but cut as a management saving. All my responsibilities were divided between two of my remaining senior colleagues. How could one person take over most of my responsibilities in addition to their own when I had struggled with the workload and sheer diversity of responsibilities? What value did this put on the areas that I had dedicated so much time and effort towards?
Only once I had left did I realise how much my work had taken out of me and now the organisation thought someone else could do it all on top of their existing work.
My role on the senior management team included taking the lead for promoting equality and diversity and management development. These were responsibilities I took very seriously. There were action plans and targets, regular monitoring of progress, conferences, workshops, and a champions group to keep things moving forward and turn the rhetoric into reality. How could all this just be dropped over night? What did this say about the value attached to areas of work I and colleagues had dedicated so much time to?
There were other disturbing things – the stories of bad practise, neglect and abuse of older people and people with learning disabilities. In my very first management post I was responsible for a group of residential homes for older people. The challenge was to improve the quality of care, promote choice, dignity, independence and respect and help staff better under stand the needs of the growing number of people suffering from dementia.
A massive investment was made in staff development, so that we would have trained, qualified and experience staff working with older people. Staffing levels were reviewed so that the job was not just about an endless round of toileting, feeding and washing but about activities, socialising and enjoying old age. All that investment was thrown away when local authority homes were closed and people placed in the private sector because it was cheaper. The quality of care now provided is not as good.
The same happened with the local authority home help service replaced by a range of cheaper private sector providers providing an inferior service.
The big idea when I started out as a social worker was to help older people remain in their own home rather than be forced into a residential care home because they were not coping. Intensive domicilary support teams were set up, day centres were opened in the evenings and weekends, short stay beds were there to give cares a regular break, help was provided when it was needed. Budget cuts now mean most elderly people don’t qualify for help. Families are increasingly left to cope. I feel most of what I spent my professional life building, developing and changing has been undone.
Perhaps it would have been different if that Kinnock election result had gone the way it was predicted. We may have seen no new Labour, with their mantra that the customer doesn’t care who provides the service, no rhetoric around efficiency and value for money, just the drive for better quality services for those in need of help and support.
Blair McPherson – a former director of community care now just commenting from the sidelines at www.blairmcpherson.co.uk