So, another conference is complete and, for the first time since 2019, in person, in Manchester. Having run the event virtually for the past two years – for very good reasons of course – the opportunity to catch-up, share notes, share contact details and build new and old relationships face to face, was very much welcomed. Each year brings fresh challenges to address, but in times of great challenge, it feels good to take stock of the shared themes.
Firstly, the belief in the ‘good’ of the sector; the great work happening every day to achieve positive outcomes and the fact that the very, very vast majority of people, old and young, are safe, well and thrive, often in the most challenging circumstances – often supported by many incredible professionals.
The appetite for sector led improvement, peer-to-peer support and challenge, and a belief that the answers are within the collective power of those that work in children’s and adults’ services is as strong as ever.
The power and strength of communities is crucial if we are to meet the challenges ahead. Retaining the community spirit engendered through the pandemic will be vital.
The increased cost of living, pushing so many into potential crisis, was a topic on the minds of most conference attendees. Whilst this is a having a huge impact on the cost of delivering services, it is affecting staff, colleagues and whole communities who find it increasingly difficult to meet ever rising prices. One conversation with a Director led to a stark prediction that more people will die due to the cost-of-living crisis than died during the pandemic! There is growing concern at the increasing number of those in work, earning a ‘good’ income but who will now struggle as the cost-of-living spirals.
Workforce pressures are huge – at all levels – from front-line staff to managers and senior leaders. Many people are leaving the sector due to retirement or lifestyle changes, to achieve better work-life balance, because they no longer feel valued or due to the cost of living and pay in the sector.
There is a general sense of frustration with government, to both understand and address the acute challenges facing the sector. Whilst intervention at a universal level offers some short-term assistance, such as with energy bills, the current political disruption can only impede the longer-term strategies, policy and investment the sector needs to deliver effective social care.
However, amongst this community, there is the continuing strong sense of ‘we can do it – we have done it in the past and we will do it again in the future’. A resilient and optimistic view that epitomises many of the great leaders we see in this sector.
Senior Consultant for Local Government, Phil Emms