Laid-off workers begin to identify opportunities amid the gloom

As the new financial year draws close, tens of thousands of children’s services staff face redundancy. But new service structures and emerging opportunities offer some hope for those who want to remain in the sector.

Tens of thousands of staff facing redundancy could be able to take advantage of opportunities within the children’s sector as different models of service provision emerge in the wake of budget decisions, departmental restructures, and changing government policy.

Social enterprises and staff-led co-operatives and mutuals are among the emerging models.

Gill Walker, who in April will be made redundant from her post as assistant director of children’s services at Darlington Borough Council, is setting up Patchwork People, a shop for young people, run by young people, offering learning and participation opportunities while engaging the local community.

As a social enterprise, Walker can subsidise the commercial aspect of the business with local authority funding and grants. Walker’s idea was well-received by her local authority as it offered a cheaper way of providing services through business subsidies.

“It has been a steep learning curve as I didn’t know where to go for advice to begin with,” she said. “The business part is all new to me and I’m currently getting advice from about six different organisations about different aspects of the development.

“In children’s services you are used to putting a team of people around a child to support them. With this you have to put a team of people around yourself.”

She advised that employees must adopt a different mindset to set up a social enterprise. “There are tremendous amounts of skills and experience that are transferable but it’s not a case of thinking you can just stand outside, do the same job and somebody will pay you,” she said. “Exploring commercial potential and doing things differently is one of the biggest challenges.”

Unlike social enterprises; co-operatives and mutuals offer the opportunity to continue as a council-run service, the idea being that they can provide savings, innovation and are free from bureaucratic constraint.

Aspect general secretary John Chowcat said while his organisation will continue to oppose cuts to local government, it is interested in tracking the progress of staff-led co-operatives.

“The value of the co-op model is that once it is built it can provide a very healthy democratic commitment and sustained structure, but it takes time,” he said.

A co-op, a form of business owned by staff and/or customers who share the profits, features open membership and democratic control (one member, one vote).

Chowcat said co-operatives should be considered before teams are broken up in the face of cuts. “It is important for managers to think about it before the team is lost and dispersed,” he said. “It is hard for individuals to do it on their own but not impossible.”

Mutual associations are similar to co-operatives in that they are “owned” by their members rather than outside investors. In Kensington and Chelsea, work is under way to create a mutual, staff-led social enterprise for youth services. Brendan O’Keefe, head of service for young people at Kensington and Chelsea, said as a social enterprise it will have access to other funding streams through potential contracts with other councils and primary care trusts, as well as through social impact bonds, payment-by-results and the Big Society Bank.

It is hoped the mutual format, which will give staff the opportunity to be part of the governance and have a say on issues including the business plan and pay and conditions, will be good for morale.

Should the concept be rubber-stamped, staff will need to adapt to an environment which requires skills such as profit and loss forecasting, innovation and creativity, new product design, marketing and contracting.

“We won’t expect it overnight,” O’Keefe said. “We want delivery staff to continue delivering to a high standard and will bring in other skills at the business end.”

O’Keefe added that the concept, which is attracting interest from other authorities, can be initiated by staff or management but requires across-the-board support.

“It has got to have at least one person in a leadership role who strongly believes in it and they need very strong support from senior managers and councillors. Otherwise you are swimming upstream,” he said.


Staff facing redundancy are being urged not to lose hope by looking out for opportunities within the sector, whether they be in a similar position at another authority, retraining for another role or switching to the private sector.

A survey published last month by the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services found that up to 3,000 local authority youth workers face losing their jobs by April 2012.

The National Citizen Service, the government’s flagship youth programme, will create a limited number of opportunities. While many of these will be voluntary, there will be some paid positions this summer and as the scheme expands.

Ivan Wise, head of staffing at The Challenge Network, the government’s lead provider for the scheme, said a mixture of 900 voluntary and paid roles are available in July, August and September. “For the more senior roles we are looking for people who have worked in residential projects before and have management and leadership experience,” he said.

One discipline set to increase its numbers over the coming years is health visiting. The government plans to recruit a further 4,200 over the next five years with pressure coming from inside the profession to remove the requirement for candidates to train first as a nurse or midwife.

Christine Bidmead, a former health visitor and Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association lead for London, said: “I hope there will be more courses for people working in children’s services who would like to work as a health visitor.” Bidmead said those interested in working in health visiting must have a flexible approach. “It is different to just working with children. The child is at the centre of what you do, but you work in a more holistic way with the whole family.”

With regard to Connexions, while the latest estimates reveal around 8,000 workers are set to lose their jobs, there are alternative positions on the horizon. Ministers are hoping to set up an all-age careers service from 2012 – although Katharine Horler, chair of National Connexions Network, said there is currently a lack of clarity about when it is going to happen.

In the meantime, Horler said some opportunities in further education colleges in support or training roles are available and advises professionals to stay up to speed with training.

Research also shows there are a number of children’s social work positions that are unfilled. A survey by recruitment agency Liquid Personnel has found social work managers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill staff vacancies.

However, it is unclear whether positions have been unfilled due to freezes on council budgets or for other reasons.

Nushra Mansuri, lead officer at BASW – The College of Social Work, fears it is the former. She added that social workers should be prepared to relocate and to keep up with professional development if they are out of work.


Considering leaving the public sector? Paul Marriot, managing director of social care and healthcare at Hays, believes the private sector could be an option:

What does the job market look like?

There are opportunities out there – while there has been a reduction in the number of jobs, there are still positions available. Consider temporary work, locum work, agency work and think about how to market yourself. Speak to a recruitment company who will be able to give you advice on where to pitch yourself. You also have to ask yourself how flexible you are in terms of where you will work and what you will do.

What’s the difference between the public and private sector?

A lot has changed in both sectors over the past few years. Work we have done with job seekers shows unrealistic expectations of how easy it is to move from public to private sector. I would seek to manage people’s expectations. It is much more commercially driven. One of the biggest differences is the pace. Things happen much more quickly in the private sector.

What skills do I need to land a private sector job?

Those in the public sector are used to dealing with the challenges the private sector is now facing such as managing budgets and how to do quality work and do it well with not much money about. You have to demonstrate understanding of the private sector and experience and commercial acumen. You have to show that you understand how the private sector works and show that you have experience that is going to benefit them. The bottom line is that you are in competition – often with your own colleagues.


32,000 Public sector jobs in schools and colleges lost in the final quarter of 2010
Source: Office for National Statistics

8,000 Connexions jobs at risk
Source: Unison

3,000 Council youth services jobs at risk
Source: Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services

1,000 Children’s centres have issued redundancy notices to staff
Source: 4Children/Daycare Trust