Public meeting: No to Privatization – the future of children’s services in Birmingham

The Problem
Birmingham’s beleaguered children’s service have come under repeated assault from Ofsted and senior politicians and is seemingly unable to lift itself out of a crisis. Some say this has been in its own making.
The Government and appointed experts have suggested that Birmingham is ‘too big’, it has been poorly led and it needs a clean break from the past. Julian Le Grand and his review team said that constant re-organisations had been demoralising and that there was a ‘lack of external challenge’.
Birmingham does not take as many children into care as other authorities, but in doing do may be placing more children at risk? If families are to be supported how do making massive cuts in preventive services help?
There has been a historic under-spend in children’s services compared to other cities with comparable problems.  The council say they have put back £9m, but are coy about the fact that this has only been found at the expense of cuts elsewhere in children’s services.Julian Le Grand
Social work vacancy levels are running at 25% with many experienced staff leaving to work in neighbouring authorities.
The Solution
The Con-Dem coalition is pushing for all children’s services to be outsourced and wants Birmingham to lead the way. In April the Government proposed that council’s could delegate almost all of their social services functions relating to children. There was a massive outcry to the idea that G4S and Serco might be in charge of child protection. 70,000 people signed a petition and 37 leading experts wrote to a national newspaper in protest. In June the Government announced an apparent U-turn but the redrafted regulations allowed profit-making companies to set up a ‘non-profit making’ subsidiary.
What Next?
How do we oppose privatization in all its disguises?  Should we entertain non-profit making organisations or are they the thin edge of the wedge? Is Birmingham’s Labour Group giving up on children’s services every remaining a directly run service and why?
This meeting will give a platform for the opposition to and the arguments against privatisation to continue to be heard. All welcome.
About the Speakers
Sue White is a professor at the Institute for Applied Social Studies, at the University of Birmingham and was one of a number of leading academics who signed the petitioning letter published in the Guardian in May ( that made front page news.  Sue’s latest book with Brig Featherstone and Kate Morris, ‘Re-imagining Child Protection: Towards humane social work with families’, is published by Policy Press.
Helga Pile is UNISON’s National Officer for social care and social work.  Helga is a frequent media commentator and represented UNISON on a wide range of social work issues including the Social Work Reform Board.

For more information and a background briefing see the document attached below for download.

Food bank research in London Borough of Lewisham

Voluntary Action Lewisham (VAL) in collaboration with the Centre for Community Engagement Research, Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies (STaCSs), Goldsmiths, University of London undertook this study to explore the growing issues of food poverty and food banks in the London Borough of Lewisham.  

There are three food banks and several distribution points currently operating in Lewisham, along with a number of other organisations that are not food banks but distribute food and provide meals in the borough.  There is mounting anecdotal evidence from the community about an exponential growth in the number of people experiencing hunger, financial hardship and accessing food banks in Lewisham and across the UK.One of three food banks in London Borough of Lewisham

The aim of this small scale qualitative study was to enable Voluntary Action Lewisham to gain a better sense of the experience and impact of food poverty in this part of South East London and to support their work with communities across Lewisham who are experiencing financial and related difficulties.

The study interviewed eleven people who used the three food banks in Lewisham and seven staff (managers and volunteers) who worked at these food banks. The researchers also attended and observed the food banks in operation.

The key aim of the study is to understand the relationship between the growth of food banks in the borough as a symptom of food poverty and the experience of food insecurity as a lived-experience.  A scope of the literature  identified that the food bank model seeks to provide emergency relief from hunger and poverty, thus the model is dependent on the wider social welfare system.  

With the UK social welfare system currently experiencing substantial financial retrenchment this leads to challenging questions about the growth of the food bank model and the future of such forms of community social action.

The study ran from spring 2013 to February 2014. It concluded that food banking and other forms of emergency food provision are likely to be an increasing feature of Lewisham’s and London’s social landscape for the foreseeable future. The challenge is therefore to explore how local communities can respond to help people put food back on the table.

The authors of this study take the view that we need to tackle the root causes of food poverty just as much as the problem.

We recommend that a more coordinated approach and assessment across the borough by all the organisations involved in food banks and other food distribution points (such as soup kitchens) is needed to gain both a ‘bigger picture’ of whats happening across the borough and to finds ways of responding collectively to this crisis. Secondly we argue that users of all the food banks should be offered a ‘professional’ debt advice and support service and/or signposting to local agencies offering these services thereby beginning to tackle and highlight some of the underlying reasons why individuals and families are experiencing food insecurity. Thirdly we recommend that, in Lewisham with its diverse multi-cultural community, that further research is needed into the types and aims of current foodbank organisations. Many of these, as in other parts of the UK are operated by church affiliated groups. This may raise questions about fitness for purpose, particulalry where some faiths may feel excluded from these services. Finally we believe that  a borough-wide discussion of all key stakeolders on the whole question of food insecurity, including most importantly people accessing food banks, and other food distribution points is needed.

Tom Henri, Lecturer in Social Work, Goldsmith College University of London. Tom’s blog “Unsettling social work” can be found at

Tax avoidance specialists handed teaching role on social work MA course

Of the five week intensive training social work, students (Frontline re-brands them as ‘participants’) are treated to a three days of ‘bespoke’ sessions on ‘key leadership concepts’ delivered by Deloitte’s – a global accountancy firm. ‘The intensive, interactive programme introduces a number of key leadership concepts. It also provides practical training in how to deconstruct complex issues and drive forward appropriate solutions’ says Frontline.

There may be several reasons for this.  

First, it begins ostensibly with an argument ‘to bring about change with families’, drawing on recognised methods in social work and psychology around ‘motivational interviewing’ and the use of the social worker’s relationship in promoting change.  Frontline purports to have an exclusive and narrow focus on children and parents in families where children are deemed at risk, the subject of much legitimate criticism (see for example ).  Arguably these methods and skills are transferable to some extent so that Frontline trained participants could potentially work with other client groups.

Secondly, it is a response to a barrage of un-inhibited criticism ranging from Ofsted’s attack dog Sir Michael Wilshaw who described Directors of social work as ‘manifestly and palpably weak’ to professor Julian Le Grand who found that the central problems in ‘failing’ authorities like Birmingham included ‘a history of poor senior leadership’.

Thirdly, and more importantly, Frontline’s vision is to produce a new cadre of future social work leaders, plainly promoted on their website, not only in regard to supervising practitioners but as a route into senior management and also what it fascinatingly calls ‘leadership in broader society’ Others have said this vision is as much about producing leaders who will be moved into management jobs in the new privatised services: this brings me back to the role of Deloitte.

So who are Deloitte? Deloitte is part of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms along with EY, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Deloitte have been involved in the adult care business for many years and increasingly so in children’s services.  More recently they have had a higher profile and invited into the government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme advising on such things as what makes social work teams successful (as if this is anything new).  Now they have a role in teaching social workers.

Deloitte’s may be a successful multi-billion company but this does not mean that their role should be hidden from scrutiny.  Hiding companies from scrutiny is one of Deloitte’s specialisms. A recent report by Tax Research UK showed that Deloitte, along with the EY, KPMG and PWC, are key to the creation of offshore ‘secrecy spaces’  As we know the impact of privatised welfare services has led to a democratic deficit and the fact that private companies are shielded from public scrutiny (see for example ). The new cadre of frontline social workers are therefore being invited to step into the neo-liberal world of financial accounting sophistry equipped with what Pierre Bourdieu would call the right social and cultural capital – in this case sophisticated business acumen taught by world experts.
Deloitte’s are also specialists in tax avoidance strategies and have been accused of advising mutli-billion dollar companies how to avoid paying tax when entering markets in countries that can least afford to be without tax revenue.  A recent report by Action Aid showed how Deloitte advised companies doing business in Mozambique to run their company from Mauritius to avoid paying tax

Is this too much of coincidence or a key part of the Frontline vision that dovetails neatly into coalition government’s policy?  Are we really to believe that Deloitte, along with Frontline’s hedge funds sponsors Ark and the Boston Consulting Group (see for background) do not have ulterior motives?  It is a conflict of interest that clearly does not trouble Frontline’s supporters but about which we have a right to ask questions.

Simon Cardy is a registered social worker and trade union activist in the West Midlands.

Twitter @simoncardy