The following speech was delivered to General Functions Committee,
on Tuesday 6th December at 7pm in Hendon Town Hall
“Dear members of the committee
I addressing you as both the branch secretary of Barnet UNISON, but also speaking as a service user of mental health services, indeed without the support I was given and the ongoing support I still receive today there is a strong likelihood I may not of been speaking to you this evening
It is also worth noting much quoted statistic that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
I therefore speak not only as a worker but from personal experience of using mental health services.
I also want to make this point that I believe is often missed by elected members. I speaking to you all as employers not politicians. It is as an employer I am wanting to address our members, your staff concerns about the proposal before the committee this evening.
Firstly, I can confirm we are not opposed to the staff being brought back into the Council and we are fully supportive of the proposed social care model of intervention.
However when travelling across the borough it is impossible not to see the number of housing developments; and with it the increase in population; and with that the increased need for schools, NHS provision, social services to name but a few public services.
It is therefore highly dangerous to be proposing to cut Mental Health services at a time when the population is growing.
It is our view that the proposed cut of mental health social workers coupled with the increase in responsibilities will NOT lead to a safer service for service users, families and carers.
Barnet UNISON is extremely concerned about the reduction of social workers and the introduction of Assessment Enablement Officers (AEO).
In mental health staff are working with extremely complex and high risk individuals in situations where you need qualified experienced and knowledgeable staff.
Currently mental health social workers have significantly high caseloads (which includes the work connected to their statutory responsibilities in their Approved Mental Health Practitioner roles.
The cut in social workers will lead to greater pressure upon an already pressured staff group increasing the risk of more Serious Untoward Incidents (SUI) happening.
You will no doubt have been briefed that the Council is not making any social workers redundant, which is true; and you will have been told that the new proposal to replace qualified social workers with AEO’s will provide a better service.
With respect this premise is nonsense.
The proposal to cut mental health social workers is directly driven by NEED.
However, not by the NEEDS of service users and carers, but by the NEED to make Austerity cuts.
I would like to remind the committee that it was only two years ago when I addressed this same committee about the now infamous Family Services restructure. At that meeting I tried to convince members of the committee to extend the period of consultation as I was concerned the changes had been driven through in haste and that I feared there would be consequences for the service and the staff. Unfortunately the committee chose accept the advice of senior officers who are now no longer working for the council. However I can report that the restructure had to be revisited as I predicted, there was a high turnover of experienced social work staff which then resulted in the recruitment crisis you now have in children’s social work.
Sometimes it is worth listening to UNISON.
We’ve been here before 18th February this year, Adults brought a similar proposal to cut social work posts, and use non-professionally qualified workers.
My members, your staff, describe feeling they are “flying by the seat of their pants”
The rationale put before this committee for cutting social work posts was that new Capita IT database “Mozaic” would deliver efficiencies. Well 10 months later this is not happening because “Mozaic”, once again has been pulled. There have been so many false starts with Mozaic if they had been a sprinter they’d have been disqualified from the Olympics by now.
I want members to take a look at agency/consultants spend.
Last year the council spent £18.2 million on agency/consultants. This figure is larger than the year before which was £17.9 million, which was significantly larger than the previous year which was £15.5million, which was previously larger than the previous year £13.7million which was previously larger than the previous year £12.5million.
In the last two quarters of this year the Council has already spent £13.7 million on agency/consultants which if the current pattern continues could see the Council break £20million.
It is our view that the Council needs to address this agency/consultancy uncontrollable spend in order to protect vital front line services and in this case drop the proposal to cut social work posts.