Chaos at the heart of council social work – MP

Dumfries & Galloway Coouncil’s under fire social work department has been slammed as “not fit for purpose”.

In a blistering attack, MP Russell Brown claimed a Freedom of Information request over controversial Adult Resource Centre service charges revealed “chaos and disarray at the heart of the council”.

And Labour politicians stepped up their onslaught with demands for an independent inquiry into the way the fees were brought in.

An email trail handed over to the Dumfries and Galloway MP by the council reveals that senior councillors in the administration had no knowledge of ARC charges as late as April this year.

Officials insist they were voted through as part of a package in March, 2011, but John Dougan and Denis Male, the chairman and vice chairman of the social work services committee at the time, were apparently unaware that had happened.

And according to Mr Brown the FOI also showed social work director John Alexander and officials discussed ‘damage limitation’ in response to inquiries about ARC charges.

It also revealed the council:

Never carried out a business or financial assessment into ARC charges. Although an overall case was prepared for income generation for social work, it did not specifically look at ARC charges.

Has been forced to admit it got its sums wrong with the fees now expected to bring in less than half the income they first thought.

Still does not know how much it will cost to implement the charges.

Mr Brown also points out that while the council previously claimed they had no choice but to start charging for ARCs in order to be equitable with other services, they have now admitted that their own legal counsel says this is not the case.

Dubbing the emails “utterly scandalous”, Mr Brown said: “It is becoming clear that the council’s social work department is not fit for purpose.

“Rather than senior council officers discussing how to carry out ‘damage limitation’ in response to enquiries about ARC charges, they should have been spending their time sorting out this mess.

“For months the council has claimed that charges were introduced in March, 2011, yet these emails show that as recently as April this year the chair and vice chair of the social work committee had ‘no knowledge’ of them.

“How on earth can the council continue to insist the social work committee agreed these charges when the two people running that committee had no idea about them?

“It is utterly scandalous that the council leadership are completely in the dark about what is going on right in front of their noses.

“It reveals the chaos and disarray at the heart of the council.”

Attacking the move to bring a report on the charges to the August meeting of the social work services committee, councillor David McKie added: “The suspension of ARC charges was supposed to give the council time to go away and address our concerns.

“Instead, they have produced a hatchet job of a report that gives us nothing new in an attempt to just bulldoze these charges through.

“The council’s reasons for the need for ARC charges keeps changing.

“First they said it was needed to generate income, until they were forced to admit that it wouldn’t bring in much money.

“Then they said they had no option but to charge for ARCs in order to be ‘equitable’ with other services, but have now admitted this is not the case.

“The council wants to bring ARC charges back but we still don’t have the answers to key questions.

“Already they have been forced to admit they got their first lot of sums wrong and they still can’t tell us how much they cost to implement.

“Councillors and the public have been misled right from the start and we need an independent inquiry to find out how this shambles has been allowed to happen.”