Helga Pile: Councils must be open and honest

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The Independent Online

These wide-ranging recommendations are an opportunity to help turn the tide in social work. We want this to be the "inquiry to end inquiries". That means the Government needs to think long and hard about how to turn the task force vision into a reality, especially in the current financial climate.

The recession has led to the demands on social services going up, just when resources are going down. Social workers are on their knees and we need these recommendations to be fully funded, or the opportunity will be lost to get this vital profession back on its feet.

An improvement fund is the key to kick-starting the other reforms. Some councils may decide to employ more specialist administrative staff to ease the burden, or they could opt for more legal advice and support for social workers preparing for court. Many would leap at the chance of replacing defective IT systems which cause hours of unnecessary work.

Let's put data, tick boxes and targets on hold. Let's get senior managers and councillors out and about talking to their social work teams about how to put the task force report into action.

Councils must be ready to be open and honest and lift the lid on the scale of the pressures in their social work teams. That means working with staff and unions to do the "health-check" which the task force recommends. Councils will continue to cover up problems, unless there is an incentive to be open. We want action, but we don't need government hit squads naming and shaming councils, before they have had the chance to put things right.

Change needs to be delivered on the ground. Social workers need to have a voice in the workplace but they have been gagged. The public has a right to hear what it is like on the front line.

Helga Pile is Unison's national officer for social workers