The minister stressed the need for local authorities to seek value for money in service provision.
Lord James said: 'The social work agenda before us is a demanding one. There are major opportunities to be derived from the new local government organisation. But authorities need time to do this, to develop new arrangements for decentralisation, and capitalise on the benefits of unitary authorities being closer to the communities they serve.
'However a period of stability is not the same as a period of stagnation. Our aim should be over the next five years, within the structures which we have put in place, to devote all our imagination and efforts to developing the quality of the services which we provide to social work clients.
-- were recognised by all as good value for money
-- were clearly based on information about outcomes and evidence about effectiveness
-- were provided by social work staff who enjoyed the support and confidence of their community
-- met standards which provided users with a clear statement of what they could expect and were based on the needs of users
-- and finally services which concentrated on support and prevention rather than crisis intervention
'If one looks at the field of community care it is particularly important that value for money should be addressed. Community care accounts for over two-thirds of the expenditure of social work departments. Are we sure that all this money is being well spent?
'We for our part are carrying out a major research programme on efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of community care. Our inspectorate has looked at value for money issues in the provision of community care. The government does not wish to see an end to public sector provision. It is a means of ensuring equitable provision across an authority and provides authorities with valuable first hand experience and knowledge about service provision.
'I would hope that all authorities would provide their councils with a simple statement of the costs of provision and nature of service so that they can take their decisions in the full knowledge of the value for money issues.
'Underlying all of this, as I have already suggested, is good information. It is about getting the best outcome in the most cost effective way. For this social workers need not only information about costs but much more importantly information about outcomes.
'We need to have more effective ways of drawing on the results of research and presenting them in accessible and digestible forms. We are putting extra effort into the dissemination of research results through short research findings leaflets. We have experimented with a video of research findings. Busy social workers do not have time to read long reports. We need to be constantly considering through training and the dissemination of information how we can improve the knowledge on which social work practice is based.
'It is, however, essential that the public should have confidence in all who provide services for it. The development of clear standards of service will I hope build up both the confidence of the public and the efficiency of the provision of the service. We shall this autumn be issuing guidance on the development of local community care charters.
'I know that the decade so far has been an immensely busy one for social work. The remainder of the decade will be no less busy but I believe the form of activity will be different. It should be concentrated on developing the quality of services rather than new structures. These are important goals and I very much hope that they will be achieved.'