Politicians slam social work department

Galloway MP Russell Brown has repeated his claim that Dumfries and Galloway Council’s social work department is “not fit for purpose”.

His comments came after an investigation into the management of the department’s finances revealed a catalogue of failures.

Mr Brown’s condemnation was echoed by MSP Alex Fergusson, who described the report as “damning”.

The independent report by the council’s external auditors Pricewaterhouse Cooper, which will go before the council’s Social Work Committee on Thursday, February 21, was established after concerns about continual overspends within social work.

The report cites a series of major failures in the way the finances of the department are managed, including flaws in the budget-setting process with spending plans based on historic and unreliable information; the teamwork between the director and his managers is described as “ineffective”; and an excessive number of budget holders within the department with more than 50 members of staff having some degree of spending power but only being monitored by a finance team of three.

Mr Brown said, “This report is a devastating critique of a department that is simply not fit for purpose. Despite the best efforts of social work staff who are trying to do a job caring for some of the most vulnerable in our community, the serious lack of leadership within the council has led to this totally unacceptable situation. The council is the guardian of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, yet it doesn’t appear to have any idea on a daily basis how huge sums are being spent and how to control that spending. My big fear is now they have to rein in the overspends within social work, the people who will suffer are those who receive care. Despite this, no-one within the council is taking any responsibility for this shambles.”

Galloway’s Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson said: “The report’s findings cannot be described as anything other than ‘damning’, and the council will have to react to it in an appropriate and serious manner. Financial problems within the social work department are not new, and the department having to be bailed out by the council is an event that has become all too familiar. It is clear that the financial structures within the department, and the department’s accountability to the council are seriously flawed, and action must be taken to ensure that this is no longer the case.

“The tragedy is that this ongoing situation detracts from the great work that is carried out by the region’s social workers who have the challenge of supporting the most vulnerable people in our society. The difficulty will be to ensure that they continue to carry out their good work within the more stringent financial structure that this report demands and council tax payers deserve.”

South of Scotland SNP MSP Dr Aileen McLeod said: “It is important to remember this report is not about the quality of care being provided by the many dedicated Social Work staff, who work very hard, often under challenging conditions.

“However it is very critical of senior management in the department and it is clear to me that the current situation cannot continue.

“Prompt and effective action is needed to get the budget under control and, importantly, give frontline staff the support they need.”