West Midlands ‘super-authority’ could ease social work recruitment challenges

The model follows Greater Manchester which has already used its devolved powers to begin integrating health and social care

Photo: Lena Vasiljeva

The creation of a West Midlands super-authority with devolved powers has moved a step closer as Coventry voted to back the idea.

The council will now join Birmingham and five other neighbouring authorities who are investigating the feasibility of a “Midlands Powerhouse” with devolved powers, pooled resources and shared infrastructure and skills.

A northern example

Greater Manchester, which has already been given devolved powers, including over its health and social care budgets, is developing a plan to integrate health and social care across the region.

However, a spokesman for Solihull council said it was too early to tell which social care functions might be affected by a West Midlands grouping.

Social workers and sector leaders within the area believe it is likely to impact on matters such as recruitment and retention, training and negotiating agency rates.

In December all 14 of the West Midlands councils, which make up the seven larger authorities, made an agreement to control agency spending in the region by imposing a pay cap on temporary social workers.

Negotiating agency rates

However, in March Birmingham council broke the agreement by voting to continue paying agency workers a higher rate, above the proposed cap, after struggling to recruit enough social workers.

An agency social worker, who wished to remain anonymous and who has worked in Coventry, Birmingham and Warwickshire said he agreed there were certain functions that could benefit from either just sharing information or merging.

Sharing information

“There are certain things you can do better if you’re a larger organisation in terms of information sharing, access to resources and a bigger pool of knowledge,” he said.

But he warned large-scale changes could also have unintended consequences. “I think the proposed West Midlands authority needs to move forward cautiously so that each local authority has time to think through the implications and consequences of any proposed merger.”

A spokeperson for Dudley council said merging back office functions like IT and human resources, and giving the region more power over its own budgets would help make the local area more efficient.

The proposal made by the West Midlands councils will have to be consulted on, debated in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and finally written into law to allow powers over budgets to be devolved to the West Midlands combined authority.

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