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Funding fears for social work reforms

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The head of the task force considering social work in the wake of the Baby P tragedy has warned that the onus will be on local government to push for cash to fund the reforms.

The Social Work Task Force, led by Camden LBC chief executive Moira Gibb, set out 15 recommendations, many of which will have significant financial implications for town halls.

Councils will be expected to develop better managerial structures and “clear national standards” of support for social workers, as well as providing places for pre-qualification final-year work experience.

They will also have to build a progressive career structure into local government pay arrangements.

Speaking at the launch of the task force’s report, Building a Safe, Confident Future, children’s secretary Ed Balls failed to promise extra government funding to pay for the reforms.

He cited existing support for councils and an already-promised £100m to help recruit social workers, before suggesting councils needed to set “their budgets properly”.

Mr Balls has said in a letter to chief executives and directors of children’s and adults’ services that Local Government Employers and the public sector unions agree with proposals to reform the social work career structure.

The task force expects the reforms will take 10 years to complete, but has urged councils to start by re-directing resources in children’s and adult social services, debating service delivery approaches and piloting new models.

Ms Gibb, a former social worker, said: “Local authorities in particular have to look at how their social work services are organised so that the pressure is not pushed down to the front line.

“I’m hopeful that the government will put in the resources that are necessary, but local government needs to get better at making its case.”

She said as a first step, councils would need to show they were using their current resources wisely across both children’s and adults’ services.

“There is money going into the system being spent on education that could be better used,” she said, adding that the £70m the government provides for social work bursaries and the £32.5m allocated to placement funding could, as a first step, be used more effectively.

But local government social care organisations cast doubt on whether councils would be able to implement the reforms without extra money.

Both the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass) welcomed the proposals for a duty on councils to provide adequate supervision and support. This would be in line with yet-to-be defined national standards, but the ability of councils to do that without better resources was disputed.

Task force member and ADCS president Kim Bromley-Derry said local authorities needed immediate help.

“The funding of social services is already under significant pressure - there is simply not the scope at a local level to meet the total resource demands of these recommendations, either in the short or longer term,” he said.

“Steps must be taken to ensure all resources are focused on the front line now, to allow local authorities the flexibility to make immediate improvements to the support available to social workers.

“In the longer term, the financial impact of these new responsibilities must be assessed and provided for.”

Fellow task force member Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, said senior managers and councillors should be taking a closer look at the pressures front-line staff are facing rather than “covering-up” problems, but added that an improvement fund would be the only way to deliver the changes promised.

She said: “Social workers are on their knees and we need these recommendations to be fully funded, or the opportunity will be lost.”

The government is expected to provide an implementation plan next year but has yet to announce details of funding.

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