4. Working Relationships
This chapter looks at working relationships between:
- SIRD projects and local authorities, as the basis for effective practical work and strategic influence by the former.
- SIRD projects and the voluntary sector.
Overall, there was a broadly positive picture in terms of the working relationships between the SIRD projects and the local authorities in which they were operating. The strength and quality of those had often built very clearly on relationships in place prior to the award of SIRD funding.
Where working relationships were less positive, a range of factors were at play. These included different views on who should have choice and control over their social care budget and the types of choices which should be available. Some projects had concerns about local budget eligibility criteria.
For a number of projects, work to build good relationships between themselves and local authority staff has been ongoing throughout the funding period. Much of this has had a practical ‘hook’ focused on offering social work staff training on self-directed support.
The quality of relationships
Overall, there was a broadly positive picture in terms of working relationships between the SIRD projects and the local authorities in which they were delivering a service. In particular, a number of projects working in only one or a small number of areas reported positive working relationships. The strength and quality of those had often built very clearly on the relationships in place prior to the award of SIRD funding. Relationships which were already positive seem generally, albeit with a small number of exceptions, to have been strengthened by the SIRD work.
From both a project and local authority perspective, factors helping support good working relationships included:
- Projects having a good understanding of how social work services are structured and the appropriate and most effective routes to go through to build links and promote the work they were doing. This included which key social work staff needed to be informed about the project and what they could offer to social work clients.
- Projects having a clear understanding of the local eligibility criteria, even if they do not necessarily agree with them.
- Projects appreciating the challenges statutory services are facing and the difficult decisions they sometimes have to make.
Where working relationships have been less positive, a range of factors appear to have been at play. These have included:
- Some fundamental differences in understanding of who should have choice and control over their social care budget and the types of choices which should be available. Some projects also have very considerable concerns about the speed with which self-directed support is becoming the norm and local budget eligibility criteria.
- Working relationships which were in place being lost because key experienced personnel (usually from the local authority side) have moved on.
- There being little or no real working relationship between the organisation delivering the SIRD project and social work at the start of the funding period. National or regional projects have tended to find it particularly difficult to make the new connections they often needed to deliver their SIRD plans.
On this latter point, some SIRD projects which have been trying to carry out client group-focused awareness raising work or training have reported difficulties in getting social work to engage. They felt this related to the number of other training options which are being offered to local authorities, with authorities looking for general training on self-directed support rather than training focusing on the specific requirements of particular client groups.
Unfortunately, in a small number of instances the relationship between a SIRD project and the local authority in which they were working had broken down to the point of being conflictual. The extent of this conflict was quite marked in some cases.
From a project perspective, when working relationships were not good they tended to put this down to local authorities not accepting that their role as independent adviser would inevitably involve them in challenging poor practice. This was particularly the case where the SIRD project believed that there was a failure to adhere correctly to legislation or that local authorities were failing to offer people the choice and control they were entitled to. They saw local authorities as resenting such challenges, or as seeking to pre-emptively avoid the time and effort involved in dealing with them.
The local authority perspective was sometimes very different. Comments and concerns raised by local authority or key stakeholder interviewees included:
- Projects working across a number of local authorities may struggle to have the necessary level of understanding of the social care arrangements in each area. A number of project interviewees highlighted a similar issue as being a key challenge for those looking to work at a regional or national level.
- Not all of the current SIRD projects may have staff with the necessary skills and experience to provide self-directed support-related information and advice. In particular, they may not have the specialist knowledge required in relation to complex cases.
- There have been instances of projects behaving naively or discourteously, for example, by arranging information sessions for a particular client group without informing the local authority that the event was being held.
- Some projects duplicating work which is either being done in-house by local authority staff or which the local Health and Social Care Partnership has already commissioned from another third sector agency.
Referrals and other joint working
Projects were clear about the centrality of the quality of their relationship with local authorities to their success in engaging with sufficient numbers of clients. Some went as far as to describe themselves as dependent on this relationship to generate a sufficient number of referrals.
The closeness and importance of that relationship often determined whether a project would approach, meet or exceed its project targets. Where relationships had been negative or non-existent, projects had tended to fall short (relative to their original proposals) in terms of the number of people with social care budgets they had worked with.
In perhaps the most striking example, one project had had the experience of two local authorities committing to making referrals prior to the award of SIRD funding, and then not doing so once funding had been awarded. It reported that it has been unable to even make contact with one of these local authorities to gain an understanding of why this had happened.
When considering why they had received fewer referrals than expected, projects tended to highlight a similar range of issues as those which affected overall working relationships. Suggestions included local authorities wishing to avoid challenge and slow progress with the embedding of self-directed support in social care generally. Above all, however, projects presented a picture of referral relationships which could vary hugely between local authorities, between different client or geographical teams within a local authority, and between individual members of staff within a team.
For a number of the projects, work around building good relationships between themselves and local authority staff has been ongoing throughout the SIRD funding period. Much of this work has had a practical ‘hook’ focused on offering training on the self-directed support approach, which has included offering training for both front line or more senior staff and training which can be delivered to potential clients alongside frontline staff. Interestingly, a small number of projects noted that although they felt the overall working relationship with the local authority could be better, there was nevertheless strong demand for the training they were offering.
Beyond this very direct approach, several projects also reported on wider work around ‘championing’ choice and control. They cited some of their awareness raising work with members of the public and with other professional groups (such as Allied Health Professionals), and in some cases with local authority social work staff.
Relationships with others in the voluntary sector
SIRD projects were generally positive about relationships with the wider group of voluntary sector organisations working in their area and other SIRD projects or other organisations working in the field of independent information and support in particular. These positive relationships were seen as important in:
- Generating client referrals.
- Creating opportunities to refer people on to other voluntary sector organisations. This included ensuring clients could receive appropriate end-to-end support when this was not provided by the SIRD project itself.
- Creating opportunities for delivering joint work, such as co-delivered training.
Projects generally reported that they were clear about their role, and where it began and ended alongside other SIRD projects or others working in the field. For a number of projects, there was a clear understanding of the work others were doing and a clear commitment not to replicate and potentially undermine their efforts.
There has been a considerable amount of partnership working between SIRD projects working in different areas to explore and share ideas. Although much of this remains in its early stages, examples of the type of work being done included:
- Exploring ideas around the provision of a payroll service.
- Mentoring support to a staff member developing the brokerage aspect of their service.
However, there were very occasional concerns expressed by SIRD project interviewees about the type of work being done by some of the other current SIRD projects. This was sometimes about whether projects have the staff with the necessary skills and expertise - a particular concern in relation to people with very specific and potentially complex needs.