I visited 15 services last week and was particularly pleased, when I arrived at our 5 Fengates service in Reigate, to hear from one of the people who lives there how much she enjoyed helping to run a training session for potential new staff at Redhill job centre. I have just come from Redhill job centre where I met a candidate on a government employment scheme where employers offer free training and work placement opportunities to unemployed people to help them get into work. The candidates who I met, who seemed a very positive and enthusiastic group, said how fantastic and inspiring the service users training session had been.
I would like to focus in this blog on partnerships with local authorities as I had a variety of different experiences last week. On a positive note, I attended Newham’s provider forum which had a large number of providers present. Newham seemed to be trying hard to engage positively with providers and to get their genuine input into the way services are planned and commissioned. I also had a pragmatic discussion with another local authority about unmet need and they told me the sorts of services they would like to see developed and in which parts of their borough. I think that approach is good because it encourages providers to be proactive and develop services where there is a demand for them.
On the other hand, I dealt with another local authority where the excesses of procurement are very clear. In that particular borough, there are two properties that are available which would be absolutely ideal for supported living. We have a housing partner who would be very keen to develop them and the borough has unmet need. However, because of procurement, the local authorities are only able to do what are called “cool off” contracts rather than agreeing with a particular provider that a service can be developed where there is clearly a need. The inevitable result of this is that providers will avoid working in local authority areas where they have to sit back and wait to be invited to set up services rather than being able to develop them proactively where there is a need. The other less positive experience I had last week was meeting a local authority to discuss some concerns in one of our services. Whilst the people living there are happy, well supported and have good relationships with their staff, there have been problems with documentation due to a turnover of managers. We have put a very detailed action plan in place which we are updating on a weekly basis and we are demonstrating that we are taking the concern seriously and acting on them. I found the attitude of the local authority concerned quite patronising and I felt micro managed. Clearly, local authorities do need to take a robust approach if providers are failing to meet standards, but where a provider is clearly taking issues seriously and addressing them and the Chief Executive and other members of the senior management team visit the service every month to check progress, you would think that the local authority would recognise a professional organisation doing its job properly. Unfortunately, we sometimes see a “master and servant” approach by local authorities to the providers they commission, rather than recognising our expertise.
I do think one of the down sides of the commissioner provider split in social care is this lack of trust, mutual respect and partnership working. I am strongly in favour of secondment arrangements where commissioners come and work in provider organisations and vice versa so we get a better understanding of each others’ priorities and pressures. I also think Directors of adult services should regularly contact Chief Executives of the larger provider organisations as we are the people who are best placed to help them find creative solutions to the huge financial pressures they chase. Sadly, that seems to happen very little and we appear to inhabit different worlds.