Legislation against council staff won’t improve social care provision – innovation will.

There isn’t a week that goes by where efficiency doesn’t dominate the agenda.

Last month in this column we talked about the likelihood that your local council is, in fact, probably more efficient than the largest company in the UK (Tesco).

This month, I was torn between talking about our annual awards (which showcased the very best of local authority improvement and efficiencies), and the news story of the month – the possibility of new legislation that makes it a criminal offence for social care services to miss signs of child sex exploitation.

So, with a certain sense of editorial self-satisfaction, it must be said, I’m going to link the two subject seamlessly. Ish.

The iESE awards recognised 30 public service teams from an entry list of more than 150, highlighting innovations from shared services to partnership projects and service redesigns that have yielded huge savings for their organisations, while improving or radically transforming services to the public.

That’s our mission at iESE – to become the voice that champions the work being done by local authorities to save money and deliver better outcomes, and to evidence on their behalf the fact that local government remains by far the most efficient area of government.

This year, an entire award category was devoted to social care innovation, which was eventually won by Windsor & Maidenhead for a fantastic project which delivered tangible savings while improving outcomes for those living with dementia.

They were closely followed by South Gloucestershire Council (which has launched a housing maintenance service to help keep residents living in their own homes and cut residential costs) and Salford City Council, which has brought together key service providers into a single partnership to increase prevention work and cut service demand for residential care.

There are other innovations going on as well – Hertfordshire CC has received Innovation Fund money to re-vision how social care could look in the future. Coventry City Council, which has begun projecting care costs through iESE’s care funding calculator, has just run a hugely successful recruitment campaign and filled almost 40 social care vacancies in four months.

The point here is that innovation is what’s going to save the social care sector in the long term – not marginalising social workers who are working in increasingly over-stretched services.

Many services have vacant posts and this leads to too many cases per social worker and not enough resources to meet service demands. Which inevitably, will lead to service gaps. The resulting reputation issues of serious case reviews and service gaps then makes it far harder to recruit and retain the best staff. That, in turn, results in eye-watering sums being spent on agency and interim staff to fill the gaps – as much as £200,000 a month in some authorities.

If CSE legislation does come about, the long term effects could make a difficult challenge impossible – more social workers will leave the profession and agency costs (if the positions can be filled, that is) climb even higher.

But, as the iESE awards proved, there is a very real evidence base to work from in social care. Building on that innovation, recognising it, and encouraging authorities to keep doing it – these are the things that will lead to reduced costs, less demand and improvements in care quality.

Incidentally, the iESE awards included a host of other fantastic examples of councils innovating to save money, ranging from shared council services to money-saving innovations in corporate services, waste management, community services and police and fire services. 

Twitter: @ieseltd

iESE Column, Published in the MJ 12/03/15