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BASW Ipswich branch challenges local councillor

Local activism on display as pressure from branch secures promise to consult social workers

BASW Ipswich branch chair, Julia Winkless, met with Suffolk County Councillor Gordon Jones last week along with BASW professional officer Keri O’Riordan, to discuss the ongoing closure of children’s centres across the county.

Initial plans for the closures had not been openly consulted due to them being “politically sensitive” according to Jones. Yet BASW secured a promise from the councillor that social workers would now be consulted on any more closures going forward.

The meeting happened after a spell of local activism by the branch, supported by BASW, which included a direct approach to the councillor, an open letter and a local press campaign.

Like most local authorities, Suffolk county council are trying to make a diminishing budget stretch further and feel that the current resources aren’t being used effectively.

They have recently outlined a commitment to use current community resources such as nurseries, community centres and libraries as children’s centres, as well as engaging third sector organisations.

Yet Julia and Keri emphasised the need for social workers to be consulted on changes to community services on the basis social workers have a lot of valuable insight and information on how these services support and safeguard children.

“For example,” reports Keri, “we highlighted the difficulties in reducing the number of bases in rural areas and asked whether transport links would be improved to ensure that those affected would have easier access to other sites.”

“The response was that this need may be met by voluntary sector partners to support or having professionals initially support difficult to engage families.”

She adds: “We emphasised that the council needs to make an assertive effort to engage social workers in the consultation process. 

“We also suggested they attend team meetings and emphasised the importance of team managers enabling social workers to respond to this consultation.”

Reflecting on the meeting, Julia said: “I think it was positive that we were invited to speak with Councillor Jones and Anita Farrant, and it gave us an opportunity to explain the relevance of the social work profession beyond the narrow remit of specialist social work services within the county council.”

“Their response to our concerns was positive, and it demonstrated how talking about things from a shared standpoint is important when discussing controversial plans to fundamentally change provision of core universal services.”

She added: “We look forward to their assertive engagement of social workers in Suffolk as part of their consultation plans, and to working with them in the future on all issues that impact the practice of social workers in Suffolk.”

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