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BASW’s caution about increase in service outsourcing

BASW has questioned the extent to which councils in England understand the role of social work, in the wake of a government backed report which reveals that more than a third of council leaders and chief executives think that there are “no local services that could not delivered by an external agency”. Without a better grasp of what the profession contributes to communities, BASW said any further outsourcing of social work services risked damaging consequences, especially in supporting vulnerable adults.

The report by think-tank Localis, launched today by government minister Oliver Letwin, assesses how local authorities can develop cheaper services, calling on the government and the Local Government Association (LGA) to establish a ‘Commission on Better Commissioning’ in an attempt to “close the commissioning skills gap across the public sector by training up public service commissioners”.

Commenting on today’s launch of the ‘Catalyst Councils’ report, BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson said: “We agree with the principle, but have doubts about its successful implementation.

“Local authorities tend to demonstrate a very limited understanding of some of their most important services, a lack of sophistication in commissioning is a common criticism, particularly regarding services for adults.

“The case for the provision of social work as opposed to social care is a classic example, many local authorities don’t understand the role and significance of social work and therefore don’t commission it properly.

“Councils are also often accused of being unaccountable in their spending to service users and residents, yet no local councillor is made properly accountable through the ballot box either, as voter turn-out is so low and elections being routinely dominated by national party issues.

“In many local authorities, social workers are cowed by managers, directors and councillors, who will not recognise a social worker’s right to advocate on behalf of the service user, even if doing so puts them in conflict with their superiors.

“This landscape puts a huge responsibility on service providers such as our thriving sector of Independent social workers, who are doing their best to convince councils of what they need to buy in order to serve people well.

“If that essential misunderstanding of social work by local authorities is resolved, this new vision might have a chance of success”.

View the Localis report