For most of us, operating in an environment of close scrutiny feels pretty uncomfortable. So, it’s no surprise that the new duty of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to assess local authorities’ delivery of their adult social care service – which came into effect on 1 April – creates ripples of anxiety throughout an organisation.
The impact of Ofsted inspections on workforce, reputation and funding has been clearly seen, as has the impact of other pressures such as the recent Section 114 notices. The fallout from a negative inspection, in terms of staff retention, budget allocation and team morale can often exacerbate the problems identified. So, will a negative outcome from CQC assurance make it harder for local authorities to recruit and retain staff?
We often hear the comment ‘that’s going to be a tough gig’ when approaching prospective applicants for roles. This is commonly aligned with increased local and national political scrutiny, media interest and concerns by residents, service users and carers.
In years past where there has been less focus on a single regulatory inspection, there has been a steady decrease in the resources allocated to performance and pre-inspection preparation. Additionally, it is very likely that the current cohort of directors, senior leaders, members and partners have not been through an inspection and may lack experience in the mechanics behind preparation for inspection and in post inspection response.
Alongside this, the inspectors themselves will be delivering the framework of inspection for the first time. What can be done to fill the skills gap? Some have looked to the corporate centre and found it wanting. Others have looked to colleagues in children’s services to borrow from their experience of the architecture of managing inspections.
Speaking to a newly retired director of adult social services who had spent the last two years preparing for the arrival of CQC, their focus was on training, communications and the early engagement with the right people. But most important was to ensure services were viewed through the lens of service users. This preparation strategy was developed not just to pass inspection but as a constructive exercise to challenge service provision and identify what could be done better.
Giving people the confidence to perform to their best ability while enhancing their experience in delivering their ‘day jobs’ was a key goal. This investment in people allowed their local authority to show its best side while also building greater loyalty, whatever the outcome.
Features/results of their programme included the following:
1) Early preparation both internally and externally; knowing who needs to be involved and involving them, while being clear about the expectations.
2) Establish a pre-CQC inspection board and have that chaired by the director of adult social services.
3) Free up resources to invest in the programme.
4) Secure support from performance specialists and undertake a self-assessment and mock inspections; fully understand what needs to be sorted and then keep that programme going.
5) Recognise the importance of the principal social worker when it comes to enhanced supervision, focus on quality, standards, training and record keeping. This will lead to coaching, training, workshops for all, and then tailored to suit their level of seniority and responsibilities and include but not limited to:
a. How to be interviewed,
b. Managing your demeanour around inspectors.
c. Confidence building.
6) Update the corporate risk register. Ensure that the leader, lead member and chief executive are all on board. Build the internal profile and keep it up.
In my conversations with directors and interim managers supporting client preparations, it is consistently acknowledged that assurance preparedness work is a great opportunity to work more closely with partners and elected members on agreeing shared ambitions and priorities. This collaboration results in greater momentum and more confident enthusiasm in the work involved that benefits the here and now.
Shared ambition and ownership can lead to a markedly different culture that staff will gain from. Preparation and its outputs shows the workforce the commitment to their training and development.
Becoming an employer of choice through career investment and in professionalising the workforce creates a loyalty that will assist in mitigating against the risk of a disappointing inspection, and it will also empower teams and build much needed resilience.
Being clear in communications with staff, service users, carers, politicians and partners about the programme and the continued work around assurance preparedness should keep this as a key headline both in the build up to inspectors arriving and after they have left.
While inspection is without doubt an unsettling time, how you prepare your people, how they are supported during the inspection and how they contribute post inspection is a great opportunity to show them that they are valued and recognise their achievements.
Craig Clarke is head of GatenbySanderson’s interim leadership practice