Sector led improvement; Tough love

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The West Midlands has taken its approach to sector led improvement seriously ever since the coalition government withdrew external inspection from adult social care in 2011. At the time Peter Hay was president of ADASS and gave a commitment to government to ensure that the sector delivered its desire for improvement through self-awareness and gave a challenge to DASSs to get on board with sector-led improvement and peer to peer challenges, or face the reintroduction of an inspection regime similar to OFSTED.

6 years on and the West Midlands is on its third iteration of peer challenges with all 14 councils continuing to participate in the programme and with a whole set of associated and complementary activity that is taking place to ensure that directors retain their focus on self-awareness as well as being provided with ‘tough love’ through the challenges provided by their peer colleagues. The programme relies heavily on the ‘social value’ provided by DASS and their assistant directors, cabinet members donating their time to visit their neighbours in a spirit of challenge but also of learning from other to take back what is working elsewhere and how it can be applied ‘back at the ranch’.

The programme has been refined over the last 12 months to add more ‘grit’, including a case file audit as part of a separate but related process undertaken by the region’s principal social worker network to focus on frontline practice, the inclusion of an ‘expert by experience’ to add a sense of user perspective to the process and the involvement of lead elected members to ensure the political oversight of the process is maintained. Finally, a follow up visit 6 months on has provided a check to ensure that recommendations have been followed through and that the letter produced as part of the challenge has been shared through the local scrutiny process.

The region is rightly proud of the commitment it has given to its sector-led improvement programme and also for providing a high level of self-awareness that is open, honest and transparent about the challenges faced as well as the many strengths that all councils in the region continue to demonstrate.

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Tony Oakman

Director of People, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and West Midlands Sector-Led Improvement Lead

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