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Social care management cull may raise costs, say experts

Mithran Samuel, Community Care, Thursday 10 February 2011

Plans to slash social care management posts at three London councils by merging departments risk costing them more in the long-term, experts have warned.

The proposals from Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, which include appointing joint directors for children’s and adults’ services across the three boroughs, are designed to make £35m of savings by 2014-15.

The plans include halving the number of senior and middle managers by 50% across merged services, including children’s and adults’ services. However, this risks robbing the councils of vital expertise and capacity, reducing their ability to make longer-term reforms to services to improve outcomes and reduce costs, local government experts have warned.

Jeremy Cooper, director of public services consultancy iMPOWER, said he thought it was a good idea for the boroughs to merge functions to generate economies of scale.

However, he added: “You can cut management but that’s a relatively small amount of people and budget and also they are the people who are going to drive through the change.”

The councils also plan to integrate health and adult social care. The single director of adult social care would head a joint commissioning unit with GPs, under the plans, and adult social care staff would transfer to a new community healthcare trust.

But Cooper added: “Having a more integrated platform needs driving through and you’re not going to have the people around to do it. You cut off your nose to spite your face.”

The savings earmarked from the mergers, £9.5m for children’s services and £9.9m for adults’ services, are a small proportion of the economies the three councils need to make to deal with massive cuts in their government funding.

Cooper said more significant savings would involve successfully reducing or delaying demand for care, which required management capacity. His warnings were echoed by Anna Turley, deputy director of think-tank the New Local Government Network.

Though she praised the councils’ ambition, Turley said: “There’s a serious issue about who we are losing in the workforce and how that’s done strategically. All local authorities need to make sure that they are not losing capacity for long-term transformation.”

NLGN is currently looking at the potential for councils to share services. “It can’t be seen as a quick win,” added Turley.

Nickie Aiken, Westminster’s cabinet member for children and young people, defended the management cuts, saying the boroughs were too small to have their own children’s services department.

“If you look at the population of Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea, it’s probably smaller than Birmingham,” she said. “Why have three people doing the [director’s] job when one can do it just as well?”

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