Concern has been sparked among staff and families in regards to the possible outsourcing of a pioneering all-age disability social work service.
Independent Futures, which Staffordshire council is in the process of setting up, is aimed to provide assessments and brokerage for people of all ages with learning disabilities or autism and those under 18 with a physical or sensory impairment. The service has been designed to provide disabled people with more seamless care via the allocation of a single key worker to people and their families. The worker will work with a person with lifelong conditions from childhood through to adulthood. It is also believed that Independent Futures will help to promote independence for disabled people, reduce bureaucracy and avoid crisis management through the provision of lifelong support planning. It is also designed to improve support to people do not meet eligibility criteria.
It is initially being launched as an in-house service the councils is currently considering whether it should be outsourced in the future, either as a new social enterprise run in part by staff and services users or through a sale to a private company. There will be a consultation launched later in the year on how the service should be developed.
Unison’s Staffordshire council branch have said that it backs the aims of Independent Futures but are concerned about the consequences of the service being externalised.
“Our members believe in the overriding principles of Independent Futures, the provision of quality, consistent social care as part of an all-age service, without the traditional split of adults’/children’s services, however members remain concerned at the overhanging threat of potential externalisation at some future point, which could mean social care being provided from a number of routes which would not be directly accountable to the community,” said branch secretary Steve Elsey.
It is feared that externalisation will weaken the accountability of the service to local residents and a social enterprise would struggle to manage the administrative and staffing costs of the service more cheaply than the council, which could benefit from economies of scale.
In plans published earlier this year for Independent Futures it was claimed that possible benefits of externalising the service included a more entrepreneurial approach, access to commercial opportunities and funding streams not open to the council as well as increased efficiency and flexibility in operations. However the council have stressed that no decisions had been taken.
“Independent Futures Staffordshire was set up as a limited company by Staffordshire County Council last year purely as a precautionary measure to ensure that the name and company structure would be in place should it be decided that Independent Futures will be run as a stand-alone service,” said Robbie Marshall, cabinet member for health and wellbeing. “Incorporating a limited company is a simple procedure that takes very little time and is simply part of good planning for every eventuality. No decision has been made as to how Independent Futures will be run or indeed whether it will be run externally or in-house. As a result, the company is currently dormant.”
He added: “Ultimately Independent Futures is about improving outcomes for people with disabilities across Staffordshire and we will develop the very best solution to achieve that aim.”
It is predicted that Independent Futures will have around 190 full-time equivalent staff, 84 of whom will be key workers and 57 social workers and is currently in the process of recruiting staff. It will be initially set up in Newcastle before being rolled out across the country.