Facing up to the Challenges

In the midst of a busy fortnight came the general election with leaders falling like skittles in a bowling alley as some paid a heavy price for failure.  Across the UK the people have spoken for the next five years whilst Scotland also prepares itself for 2016 and the Scottish Parliament elections next year.  In my role as Chief Social Work Adviser to the Scottish Government, I have had a number of conversations with colleagues from other parts of the UK comparing life in social services north of the border.  Their observations highlight the support our sector receives from Ministers in Scotland, a comment which has been remarked on many times over recent years. Secondly (and partly to do with size), is the opportunity for the sector to work more closely together, whilst acknowledging some of the challenges which exist in relation to issues including commissioning and low pay.

It was in this context that Annie Gunner Logan CCPS, Ranald Mair, Scottish Care and I all spoke recently at Strathclyde University.  The occasion was the outcome from a Benchmarking Survey into Pay and Conditions in Social Care undertaken by Professor Ian Cunningham from the Department of Human Resource Management at the University of Strathclyde, on behalf of the CCPS and Scottish Care.  The survey confirmed a number of concerns within the sector and issues raised by both organisations over the past few years including;

  • high turnover in staff
  • 86% of voluntary providers used fixed term contracts
  • over half of of voluntary organisations made redundancies in the last year mainly where there had been a loss of public sector contracts
  • 57% reported problems in recruiting front – line staff
  • front-line and supervisory posts most difficult to fill because of pay, not enough applicants, competition from other sources such as supermarkets and insufficient qualifications and skills
  • organisations evenly divided regarding value of induction programmes between those saying ‘it needs to be reviewed’, ‘adequate’ and ‘ high standards’

In his concluding remarks Professor Cunningham suggested there is evidence of organisations struggling to pay the ‘ living wage’ and as the labour market recovers recruitment problems will become more acute.  He suggested there is evidence of a loss of experienced staff to turnover. Finally Prof Cunningham asked the question; How  long before the double bind of turnover and recruitment problems becomes more widespread?  Scotland is fortunate to have effective leadership across the three sectors in social care who are working hard to ensure the sector  tries to resolve some of the fundamental challenges outlined in this report.

My programme of visits continued during the past fortnight with a day in Midlothian.  In social services terms it is an authority which has made considerable progress over recent years, led by Chief Social Work Officer, Alison White.  Highlights of the visit included Cowan Court, the 5 star extra care housing ( something Scotland needs more of of ! ) midlothian 2midlothian 1and across the road living side by side with a  4 bedded young persons home.  Over the past few years it has been so encouraging to see the development of new homely environments being built – all part of the the critical role of taking seriously the role of  the corporate parent!

Last week I made the journey to Kirkcudbright to speak at the Dumfries and Galloway children and families staff conference. Brilliant to play a small part in a major change programme being driven forward by Lilian Cringles, CSWO and Liz Bell with support from Carol Wassell  at CELCIS. Connecting the national vision and strategy, evidence based practice with a local change programme can empower staff to make an even more positive contribution to the lives of children and families!

Last Thursday the first of our front line practitioner engagement events of 2015 took place in Edinburgh, with more than 90 practitioners in attendance.  The event was addressed by the Acting Minister, Children and Families Fiona McLeod who spoke warmly about the positive role of social services in a socially just Scotland.  A lively discussion with a question and answer session followed.Edinburgh 1Edinburgh Minister

Similar to the other four sessions to follow, the events are being shaped to support the four strands of the national strategy. The next  one will take place in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow on 10th June from 2.00pm.  Further details and information on how to request a place can be found here.  http://www.gov.scot/Topics/People/social-services-workforce.

Further Practitioner Engagement events will be held in the following location, with details on how to book a place being issued on our webpages nearer the time:

  • Stirling, 28 July 10.00am
  • Inverness, 25 August, 10am
  • Dundee, 22 September, 10am

Finally, my successor as Director of Social Work, in Dundee City Council, Jenni Tocher retired on Friday 15 May.  Jenni played a significant role in the positive inspections of  social work services and offered me tremendous support over my eleven years as Director. Her contribution in 32 years in Dundee was marked by a well deserved reception in the city chambers hosted by the Lord Provost Bob Duncan. Enjoy the rest Jenni.