Enabling, Empowering, Developing

Care Appointments caught up with Alan Dickson, Chief Executive of Capability Scotland, to discuss how the organisation and the sector itself has developed over the last 60 years…

Capability Scotland is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year so we asked chief executive Alan Dickson to give us a brief history of the organisation.

“60 years ago the organisation was founded by a group of parents in conjunction with some doctors who saw that there were very few services for children with cerebral palsy, or spasticity, as they tended to refer to it then, and from there the Scottish Council for Spastics was born.

“The organisation’s name changed to Capability Scotland in 1996 as the word ‘spastic’ had become a pejorative term and one that is still used, inappropriately, by some people today. Spasticity is only one of the forms of cerebral palsy.”

Over the course of the 60 years much has changed both in the wider care sector and within Capability Scotland. Alan highlighted for us just how the services that the organisation provides have developed.

“Over the years the services we provide have develop a great deal. Originally we only worked with children with cerebral palsy at Westerlea School, which was gifted to us by the Red Cross in 1947. Westerlea School was the first establishment of its kind at the time and although the school has since closed ,our central offices are still located within the building. Subsequently, we developed other specialist schools in Johnstone and Lanark, and through time began to provide adult services, residential care and day care services. Nowadays, we deliver a whole range of services to many different client groups including people with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour. We have a Scotland-wide presence and work in most of the local authority areas.”

Care Appointments was surprised to learn that Alan had originally trained as a chartered surveyor. So how did he end up working in the care sector?

“I woke up one morning and realised ‘I can’t do this anymore’ – I didn’t fancy spending my life with a theodolite. I moved into the concrete industry, where I was on a management training programme, but I left and joined Help the Aged. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it must have been, as I’ve been in the sector ever since. I then moved to the British Leprosy Relief Association and then to Capability Scotland. My role when I joined was to head up the fundraising and marketing side and I later progressed to assistant director and then deputy director. I’ve been chief executive since 1997.”

The celebrations to mark 60 years of Capability Scotland were launched at the AGM on 11th October. We asked Alan what else they had planned.

“There will be a series of fundraising events throughout the year and these will involve all of our local services across the country and will include events in all the major cities. We will also be highlighting our services and the good work that we do, the positive changes that have happened in policy, practice and service delivery over the last 60 years and what positive changes can take place over the next 60 years.

“Through our work we believe we’ve become a force for positive change for disabled people and we want to see that continue. We’re also doing some research work – it’s 10 years since the Disability Discrimination Act and ten years since we changed our name to Capability Scotland and we want to ask what’s changed in that time? And have those changes that have come about made a positive difference to people’s lives?”

So, 60 years on, what are the principal issues that Capability Scotland is addressing?

“One of the main issues is the attitudinal barriers that continue to get in the way of people with disabilities achieving full equality. Much has been done – The Disability Discrimination Act is a good piece of legislation, but there are still attitudinal barriers. Disabled people are still financially poorer than non-disabled people. Issues such as physical access and transport are still problematical. Access to physical aids is also still difficult and expensive. Access to employment for those who can work is something that we need to continue to address and for those who cannot work there needs to be appropriate and adequate financial support. These issues remain, and while the situation is better in some areas there needs to be appropriate resourcing to meet the needs of those with disabilities.

“One of the challenges facing us is the constantly changing environment in terms of service delivery. In light of the 21st Century Review and the transforming of public services there is a movement towards a mixed economy of care and personalised services – these are good developments but can sometimes be at odds with providing services at a competitive rate.

“The difficulty we have is that 90-95% of services we provide are the statutory responsibility of the local authorities. We are providing those services on a contract basis and are concerned that they are carried out on a full cost recovery basis. While we recognise the fact that we need to be competitive we should take care to ensure that the constant drive to push down the cost of services doesn’t happen at the expense of the individuals. It’s all about sustainability.”

{mospagebreak}What changes in the sector itself has Alan observed over the years?

“The most significant thing is the move to the contract culture which, I think, has sometimes resulted in short term contracts and inconsistency of service delivery. It’s a much more competitive environment in which care services are provided Ð the main purchaser is the local authority but they are also a provider and there are issues about the purchaser-provider and the relationships that exist there. Many local authorities do a fantastic job to cover a multitude of provision – I recognise the difficulties they have to fulfil their tasks and we’ve seen partnership working increasing again in recent times and I’m keen to see that continue.

“Another major and much more important change is the fact that services have become and are becoming much more user-focused – people recognise that it’s not about delivering services for people but with people. However, we still need to do better at that.

“Another issue of concern is the lack of resources in the sector – we are in a position where there are positive policy moves, such as inclusive education, care in community – which have led to positive change – but the reality is that unless you properly resource the models of service it might not be any better.”

Inclusion is a concept that most sector organisations have embraced in recent times and Capability Scotland are no different.

“We see our services changing in the coming years. We have our ‘1in 4 Poll’ which canvasses the opinion of something in excess of 800 disabled people, as well as their carers and families across Scotland, from whom we are able to obtain views on many issues. We see ourselves working more and more to ensure that service users get what they want – we want to act more as a gate opener rather than just a service provider.”

In terms of workforce development within the care sector in Scotland, we asked Alan what he believed could be done.

“In Scotland, and I think this is probably mirrored across the UK, there has been an increase in people moving into the care sector. People have come in from Eastern Europe to provide care and many have been successful in this. However, there was a period, not so long ago, where the numbers entering the sector died down, which was a problem – in fact I myself sat on a committee on workforce planning with the Scottish Executive – it had become a difficult issue, and still is to some extent.

“The first thing is to recognise the value of the jobs we’re talking about – we did this a disservice a few years ago when, through trying to drive down cost of care services, we changed the model for pay rates for those workers delivering care and they realised that they could get more money working elsewhere.

“In terms of skilling-up, we have the SVQ model on which we spend a good deal of time, energy and money, as well as the requirements placed on us by the Scottish Social Services Council, which will both, I believe, lead materially to a recognition of the value of the jobs, the required skills and the mechanisms that need to be put in place to make sure the training is correct.

“We need to be vigilant though – we need to get away from simply recycling old ideas with a slightly different message tagged on.

“I think that the staff who provide care in the broadest sense do a fantastically difficult job – and this needs to be recognised for what it is. Skills have to come along with user involvement – it’s not a case of ‘we do this for you’, it’s about enabling and empowering.

“At Capability Scotland we have major training programmes across all our services and the Learning and Development team in our HR department is constantly looking at ways to skill-up and deal with issues of equality and awareness, as well as specific skill areas. We are working hard to increase and improve all of these things. We believe in training Ð without that your organisation won’t function.

“However, one of the worries that we have is that we spend a lot of time and money training people and enabling them to achieve their SVQs and then someone, often a local authority, comes along and offers them more money and pinches them. That’s a real concern for the voluntary sector in general. Which brings us back to the purchaser-provider issue – we can’t pay more because the contract won’t allows us to, but the purchaser of the service often can pay more. Some argue that that’s just life but the danger is, are we planning to deliver the services in a consistent and meaningful way? Is the contract culture itself, through providing competition, providing better services? I think in many cases it is but perhaps in many other cases it isn’t.”

We asked Alan what the future holds for Capability Scotland.

“At the moment we are undertaking a major visioning exercise. We are consulting with all our stakeholders – local authorities, donors, purchasers, users, staff, carers, other disability organisations – as we want to find out their views on what we do well and what we could do better. This piece of work will inform our future plans, shape the kind of organisation we will become and influence what work we will be doing over the next 5 to 10 years. It is a new vision and a new strategic plan.

“We are also seeking to increase the number of disabled people we employ and have adopted a ‘20% process’ on disabled people who work for Capability Scotland. We are seeking to increase our influence and change the style of our services in some areas. We’re also looking at expanding in other local authority areas. We often say that we are the leading organisation on disability in Scotland but perhaps it is more correct to say that we are one of the leading organisations on disability in Scotland – we have to work in partnership with others and we need to be working with those who need or want services and to ensure that they get what it is that truly meets their needs, while recognising the limitations that are placed on all of us.”