Adult Social Care Department left in the lurch - Iain Whyte

Most politicians like a media headline. The last week has taught us that some can’t resist that urge even if it damages services to residents and the professional reputation of the council.
Inverleith Councillor Iain WhyteInverleith Councillor Iain Whyte
Inverleith Councillor Iain Whyte

The SNP, and to a lesser extent, their Green Party colleagues, created a row at the last council meeting over a senior officer appointment that has left the council’s Adult Social Care Department in the lurch.

Edinburgh residents may think that social care service is permanently in crisis because for ten years it has cycled through underperformance, budget overspends, recruitment breakdowns and shocking inspection reports.

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The latest criticism by the Care Inspectorate called out a lack of strategic leadership and the chief officer responsible for the Integrated Joint Board with NHS Lothian chose to resign. It may be many months before someone new can be recruited.

Social care recruitment efforts have been branded "largely ineffective" by a leading care body as figures revealed millions have been spent on a Government campaign in recent years yet vacancies have hit a record highSocial care recruitment efforts have been branded "largely ineffective" by a leading care body as figures revealed millions have been spent on a Government campaign in recent years yet vacancies have hit a record high
Social care recruitment efforts have been branded "largely ineffective" by a leading care body as figures revealed millions have been spent on a Government campaign in recent years yet vacancies have hit a record high

The chief executive instead brought in an interim director of social care. His job - to stabilise the council’s service, begin to balance the budget, ensure all social workers were meeting proper professional standards and draw up a longer-term improvement plan. Vital stuff even if interim contractors are expensive. And necessary to have someone from outside when the Inspectorate had criticised the whole senior team.

The chief executive knew this was politically sensitive and so took the unusual step of asking representatives of every party to sit on a panel that selected the interim director. I was one of them. We all knew the costs involved and we all agreed on the best person to appoint.

It was a big surprise, then, that the same SNP and Green councillors who were on that panel put forward amendments at council criticising the appointment. The SNP wanted to scrap the appointment completely and ridiculously calculated a huge fantasy “annual salary” from the costs of the fee for a contractual arrangement with a recruitment agency as a justification. These are very different things.

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Worst of all this breached normal protocol that we resolve disagreement on personnel matters in private and agree them unanimously in public.

Despite the contract being voted through the interim director left last Friday. Not surprising if there is other work elsewhere and few skilled people to do it. This isn’t a normal job. Think more a Red Adair for social care instead of oil well spills.

The department remains without the expertise for radical and swift change that is necessary. Long term, the recruitment to the chief officer post will be much harder as the council will have a reputation for public disagreement over what should be a professionally run process.

The practical impact, despite the best efforts of our many caring and dedicated frontline staff, is that clients are still left to decline inappropriately in hospital, wait weeks or months for an assessment or are left without the care at home they are assessed as needing.

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During the last SNP-led administration my calls for greater scrutiny and vast improvement in social care were regularly rebuffed in favour of their approach of denying and burying “bad news”.

Now their urge to spin a story remains so strong that short term gain for them beats any consideration of change that would improve the lives of thousands of Edinburgh residents.

Councillor Iain Whyte is Conservative group leader on City of Edinburgh Council