Social care is the responsibility of Surrey. The recruiting and retaining skilled social workers has proved a challenge for the Conservative administration for many years. As departmental budgets at Surrey have been squeezed more recently, the pressures on both the children’s service and adult social care (ASC) have only intensified. The cost of failing to recruit and retain sufficient numbers of social workers has led to an over-reliance on agency social workers. In a climate of decreasing budgets, this has been exposed as a particularly inefficient use of funds as employing agency staff is far more expensive in the long term than recruiting skilled social workers to work directly in social care.
In November 2014, OFSTED carried out an inspection of Surrey’s childrens’ services. Their subsequent report, published in June 2015, found them to be “inadequate.” The OFSTED inspectors reported finding “widespread and serious failures that potentially leave children at risk of harm.” The report’s authors were particularly critical of the inadequate leadership, management and governance in children’s services in Surrey.
The high-profile nature of the “inadequate” grading of Surrey’s children’s services by OFSTED has pushed this issue up to the top of the political agenda. Surrey has been required to formulate and publish an “Improvement Plan” to address the “widespread and serious failures” highlighted by OFSTED. This report, published in September 2015, marks out improving the recruitment and retention of social workers as a crucial step towards recovery for Surrey’s children’s cervices. Increasing pressures on the Adult Social Care system have been driven by a sustained increase in demand for the county’s services. Demand for individually commissioned care services has increased by an average of 6% each year for the last seven years and shows no sign of abating. Despite this, the sustainability of the Conservative administration’s social care budget plans rely on the rate of demand increase dropping to 3% by 2018/19.
The most recently published report on the County’s budget projects that the children’s services will have an overspend for 2015/16 of £1.8m, citing “an increased reliance on locum (agency) social workers” as a key factor. The same report projects that spending on social care will be £1.9m over the initial budget. Further information on staffing budgets reveal the extent of the problem, with 511 of the 671 current live vacancies across all areas at Surrey coming from the social care departments. Recently published figures also reveal the Conservative administration’s over-reliance on agency staff for this financial year up to 31 August, with Adult Social Care and Children’s Services by far the biggest spenders (£1.2 million and £2.4 million respectively).
What have the Liberal Democrats at County Hall done?
Surrey Liberal Democrats have campaigned for many years on this issue, calling on the Conservatives in County Hall to prioritise the recruitment and retention of social workers and suggesting a variety of practical steps that could be taken to tackle the problem. In July 2015, Cllr Fiona White, the Liberal Democrat social care spokesperson, proposed a motion at a full county council meeting which called on the Conservative administration to “prioritise the recruitment and retention of social workers.”
Following a campaign by the Surrey Liberal Democrats, Surrey Conservatives accepted the motion which called on them to “reduce the council’s over-reliance on costly agency staff” and “reduce the workload of social workers.” Surrey Liberal Democrats have continued to hold the Conservative administration to account as it begins its efforts to turnaround the “inadequate” Children’s Services. Group Leader, Cllr Hazel Watson, is a member of the Children’s Improvement Board which has worked to formulate the recently published Children’s Improvement Plan 2015 and is continuing to work with the Conservative administration and representatives of other political groups to ensure that the Improvement Plan is fully implemented.
Cllr Watson has put forward several practical solutions for improving the recruitment of social workers, including:
- Ensuring that social worker salaries and benefits compare favourably with those offered by neighbouring counties and boroughs, particularly the London boroughs which border the North-east and North-west areas of the county, in order to attract skilled individuals to choose Surrey as their employer.
- Carrying out a recruitment campaign, highlighting the pension benefits available.
- Implementing an outreach programme to universities where social workers are trained in order to attract graduates to work for Surrey.
- Considering using Surrey to provide key worker housing for social workers, particularly in the North-east and North-west areas of the county where the skills shortage is most severe.
Our Commitment to Surrey Residents
Our commitment to Surrey residents is to recruit and retain enough social workers to fill vacancies at Surrey so that the best possible support can be provided to vulnerable children and adults in Surrey.