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WRITING ON THE WALL FOR SOCIAL CARE

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By Suzanne Simmons-Lewis...
By Suzanne Simmons-Lewis

Health secretary Alan Milburn has announced a radical shake up of social care that could spell the end of social services departments as we know them. In his speech to the National Social Services conference in Cardiff, Mr Milburn announced his intention to 'tear down traditional service boundaries, which too often impede the delivery of a seamless serviceto the most vulnerable'. He said: 'The monolithic one-size-fits-all structure must be broken up.'

Key elements of the reforms include the intention to press ahead with the creation

of children's trusts despite serious concerns from the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Social Services and the NHS confederation. They will combine education, health and social services all under council control. A push for more care trusts is also envisaged.

Similar to recommendations made in the Institute for Public Policy Research report on the future of social services, which Mr Milburn claims he has not yet seen, is his intention to radically change the role of social work professionals.

Mr Milburn said: 'I am asking the General Social Care Council, training organisations and local government to work with us to develop new types of social care professionals. People who can work in the community combining the skills of the therapist, community nurse and home help to provide rehabilitation alongside home care.'

There will be a greater role for the voluntary, private and community sectors in

delivering social services.

Mr Milburn conceded that in as little as 10-15 years time, social services departments and the directors that serve them would cease to exist in their current capacity,which,he says,is a starkly outdated model. Although directors have a statutory position, Mr Milburn said people are 'voting on their feet and quite frankly, I think the writing is on the wall'.

He also announced his intention to press ahead with fining councils for delayed discharges, despite opposition from the LGA. Top-performing councils under the star

rating system are to earn new freedoms. They will be subject to fewer inspections

and greater financial freedoms. They will have the right to carry over resources

between financial years and to spend the social services budget free from ring-fencing. Mr Milburn said he was in discussions with deputy prime minister John Prescott to thrash out further freedoms.

In extreme cases of failure,Mr Milburn said: 'I will use powers under the Local

Government Act (2000)to appoint a nominee to take over the running of the service.'

John Ransford, director of education and social policy at the LGA, said although the

speech sparked a very different mood from last year,he had two major concerns.

He predicted the executive would vote to continue its stance against fining councils for bed blocking. He was disappointed the heath secretary had not considered the widespread consultation on proposed models for children services and was instead pressing ahead with children's trusts. Mr Milburn said no decisions about child

protection services would be made until the Laming inquiry had made its recommendations.

The full text of Mr Milburn's speech is available on LGCnet

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