Have your say on the future of social services : Gwenda Thomas
With the UK coalition government’s comprehensive spending review just around the corner, the role of social services needs to be safeguarded, says Deputy Health Minister Gwenda Thomas
I DON’T generally make a habit of quoting Tory Prime Ministers, but on this occasion I think the words of Winston Churchill are most apt: “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”
There is little question that we face significant difficulties. We will have to wait until the outcome of the UK coalition government’s comprehensive spending review in the autumn to know the precise impact of spending cuts for Wales, but I am already extremely concerned that the budget will hit the poorest and most vulnerable in our society the hardest.
Earlier this month I spoke at the National Social Services Conference in Llandudno where I announced what I believe is an optimistic route map for a sustainable future for social services in the form of a White Paper on the future of social services over the next decade, to be published in the new year.
The history of social services under devolution is one in which we can take great pride. Much has been done over the past decade to grip the challenges. Growth in spending has allowed innovation, driven up quality, and increased independence and safety for service users. However, these were the challenges of the last decade.
Even without cuts in public spending, the challenge had moved on. Now the task of meeting growing needs with only three quarters of the money makes the need to rethink our approach pressing.
For answers to these challenges I am looking to a series of strategic reviews I have commissioned.
Most important of these is the Independent Commission on the Future of Social Services. Professor Geoffrey Pearson and his team are talking to a range of stakeholders to advise me on the shape of social services in the next decade.
Supporting the Commission are a number of other reviews, such as the Workforce Task Group, the Review of Regulation and Improvement and reviews of adult and children’s safeguarding. These reviews will come together to define what the white paper will say.
Some might view policy reviews and the production of a White Paper as activity instead of action. I don’t see it that way. We must transform social services, doing a little bit less of the same things is not going to be sustainable. A new approach is needed to deliver the economies and efficiencies we need. We have to create a joined-up system which includes health, housing, education and social services.
To make this transformation we need collective leadership and a clear vision.
To lead the development of a radical vision we share is precisely the role of national government.
I believe that it is right to create a new consensus on the future of social services. Consensus is something we are good at in Wales when we take the time to talk and think together. I also believe that I should give a new administration, which will follow elections in May 2011, a head start in creating the social services of the next decade.
The opportunity then is to use the difficulties we face to prompt the sort of transformation required, as a spur to go beyond reducing access to a lower level of service, to provoke us to apply what works despite the self interest of organisations and a trigger to focusing on the needs of the user rather than the provider in designing what we do.
I hope every one interested in social services in Wales will grasp the opportunity to play a part in the development of the White Paper.