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Olly Swann

Six Thoughts From NCAS Conference 2014


The annual ‘pilgrimage’ that all social care professionals generally make is the NCAS conference. In my opinion, it is one of the best gatherings for senior leaders and top practitioners in the field. Having now had time to reflect on my experience of the conference (and recover from near-death-by-Powerpoint) I felt now was the right time to share my headline thoughts and offer up some reflections.

  • You can’t keep us down: Austerity measures have had many effects on social care professionals but the passion and commitment of the two services that are experiencing unprecedented levels of demand and finger-pointing from corporate colleagues and inspectorates is as strong as ever.
  • There was not enough focus on the ‘what’ and the ‘how’: Considering the whole sector is already subscribed to the ‘why’, I expected much greater focus on what local authorities are actually doing to maintain or improve services under severe financial constraints.  I came away a bit underwhelmed by the extent to which best practice and truly innovative examples of transformation (and there are several out there) were showcased. There’s maybe some lessons to draw from how the agenda is constructed, particularly the bidding to run sessions.
  • There wasn’t one mention of the workforce development required above and beyond professional practice: Leaders and managers are all-too-often not equipped with the prerequisite skills to run, what is essentially, a multi-million pound business fraught with corporate and career-ending risk.  Experience tells us that with these services more than any other, individuals are promoted on the length of their practice experience rather than their genuine management competency.  SOLACE have already questioned (and rightly so) the future role of DCSs, so where was the required acknowledgement and action-focused response (other than adopting the somewhat self-fulfilling line of “we don’t agree”)?
  • The pre-election spin is definitely underway: The lines from the coalition were predictably safe (both in their content and delivery) and steered well-clear of any thorny issues that might upset the electorate.  Irrespective of the result of the next election, (I don’t think either party is going to be winning votes on social care although some might lose them – another post entirely) I came away feeling that we’ll be stuck with the current policy regime for at least another term come what may.
  • The name of the game is integration: If that is genuinely the case, where were our NHS partners? If we can’t get together for a conference it doesn’t bode well for the multi billion pound integration challenge we’re grappling with. How about this for an idea – a delegation swap. At NHS Confed conference next year ADASS should take a delegation of DASSs and in return the Confed should bring a delegation of health executives to NCAS? It’s a start.
  • Where is the innovation fund for adult’s social work?: Much fuss was made over the ingenuity of the ideas (albeit with limited detail) and the scale of the financial awards afforded under the current children’s initiative.  However, given the emotively popular challenges outlined by Norman Lamb (particularly in relation to mental health) where is the equivalent ‘carrot’ for our adults’ colleagues?

In truth, I could go on but these were certainly the most pressing thoughts a week removed. If any of the above has struck a chord then get in touch with me at as I’m keen to get other peoples thoughts on the key messages and takeaways from NCASC 2014.

image via photopin

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