Supporting the Workforce – Guest Blog, Anna Fowlie, Scottish Social Services Council

This week we continue our series of guest blogs with one from Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC).  Here, Anna talks about the variety of activity which is  already underway to take forward the actions outlined in Social Services in Scotland : A Shared Vision and Strategy.

Anna-Fowlie“As the lead on the workforce strand of the Vision and Strategy, Alan’s asked me to be the guest blogger this week. Pretty much all of my work is about the social service workforce and every week is different.

My week began with a meeting with Carole Wilkinson, my predecessor as Chief Exec of the SSSC, about diversity on the boards of public bodies.  Carole is Chair of the SCRA board and has been doing a lot of thinking about how to get a more diverse range of people involved in public appointments.  In our sector, it’s not so much the commitment to 50:50 male:female that’s the issue, it’s more about young people, people who use services and people from ethnic minorities.  And dare I say it, maybe getting beyond middle class, middle-aged ex-public sector managers! We have one vacancy on our Council about to be advertised so do get in touch if you’re interested.

Like all Chief Execs of public service organisations, I’m a member of the Scottish Leaders Forum and at our last big session, we set up some “creative collaboratives” to try to take a new approach to intractable problems.  I’ve volunteered for the participative democracy one and I spent some time catching up with what’s been happening while I was off on leave and thinking about how we take it forward.  I was really impressed with the level engagement generated by referendum, on both sides, and think we’ve got a responsibility to those people who engaged in politics for the first time to do something positive with all that energy.

Citizen participation has been particularly visible on social media.  Having been dragged kicking and screaming to it myself, I’ve got a bit addicted to Twitter and find it a great way to find things out and reach people (or indeed be reached by people!). However, one of the downsides of this job is not being allowed a public political opinion and that neutrality can be sorely tested when a heated debate rages on Twitter and you’re itching to join in.  This week’s “to tweet or not to tweet” dilemma came with the publication of the UK Homecare Association’s open letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the Living Wage.  You’ll have heard Colin Angel all over the media speaking about it. I have a strong commitment to valuing the social care workforce much better than we do, and we can’t avoid the fact that pay and conditions could be a lot better.  I’ve also had a bit of a soft spot for home carers since I worked in HR in a council just after local government re-organisation  and really got a feel for what they do for very little reward. However, the UKHCA letter was clearly political and therefore dangerous territory, so I just had to watch from the sidelines.

One of the lesser known roles of the SSSC is being the Scottish arm of the sector skills council, Skills for Care and Development.  The partners from rUK are Care Council Wales, the Northern Ireland Social Care Council and Skills for Care, and we share Sarah, a UK co-ordinator who herds the cats and tries to give us a unified voice. It’s hard because all of our policy context is devolved and there is increasing divergence amongst the four UK countries; England particularly is following a different path to the celtic nations. This week I spent some time in online communication with the other partners about various bits of shared activity and possible future collaborative work.  You might have seen A Question of Care, or our Career Ambassadors, or some of our digital resources; these have their origins in the UK partnership.

One of the things all four UK countries have in common, but which we’re all doing differently, is integrating social care and health services, and not a week passes for me without some activity on that.  This week it was meetings with the Scottish Government’s new lead for integration, Ian Mitchell, and Paul Bowtle who is trying to link up the NHS’s work on leadership with ours. I also had a regular catch-up with Caroline Lamb, the acting chief exec of NHS Education Scotland because we do lots of joint work with them around workforce development for the new integration partnerships.

I am very supportive of simplifying the landscape for people using social care and health services and we are doing a lot of work to support the social service workforce to operate in that “new” way.  I do seem to spend a lot of my time reminding people that you can’t just add “and social care” after the word “health” and expect everything to be rosy. Like lots of things in life, we need to get much better at understanding and respecting each other’s worlds and turning off the “default to defensive” switch!

A positive example of national leads working more co-operatively across health and social care was a meeting I attended about recruitment and retention in care homes, particularly of nurses. Lots of people were there from government, Scottish Care, CCPS, Social Work Scotland etc and we were agreeing how we identify if there is a problem and if there is, whether it is widespread or concentrated in particular areas. If you’ve got experience of problems recruiting staff to care homes we’d like to hear about it.

As a non-departmental body, the SSSC has a sponsor team in Scottish Government and happily ours is the Office of the Chief Social Work Adviser. We have quarterly formal meetings but we also periodically have less formal discussions.  This week was one of the latter and we had plenty to discuss from Prof Siraj’s review of the Early Years Workforce to the review of the social work degree, from the trends in our fitness to practise work to how we raise awareness of our work with MSPs.

Another of our functions is to collect and report workforce data. We’re always thinking about how we could use it to best effect and our Convenor, Prof Jim McGoldrick, and I are getting increasingly intrigued by the concept of Big Data.  This week we met with colleagues from Abertay University to discuss how we might be able to use all the data we have to look at the root causes of conduct issues in particular. Are there particular risk factors that could be headed off at the pass? Can we use all the information we’ve collected over the last decade to inform a more proportionate, risk-based approach to regulation or to inform social work and social care education? We’ll see how that develops.

We’re also thinking about how we report our data, turning it into intelligence which is useful as well as interesting. We’re in the middle of writing a report that tries to do that in a way that is less dry than official statistics or an annual report. I read the first draft of it on the train home from Dundee on Friday and it’s looking promising.  The long commute between Dundee and Edinburgh provides useful time to catch up on emails and reports, so I can be quite anti-social if I bump into people I know.

The week ended with a meeting with the new Director of the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, Annie Mauger. We regulate housing support staff, and practitioners in housing support are coming into scope alongside care at home workers from 2017.  There are around 60,000 people working in these roles so it will be a huge increase in our Register which currently sits at just under 90,000. We work closely with CIH on qualifications, national occupational standards and engagement.  It helps that they have the most beautiful location on Princes St in Edinburgh and I can recommend their meeting rooms with amazing views of the castle at very reasonable rates! Bizarrely, I worked with Annie in a local authority about 15 years ago when she ran the library service and I was in HR so it was doubly nice to see her.

Scotland’s like that, isn’t it? Great for networking and full of positive opportunities.”

Anna Fowlie is Chief Executive of SSSC