Dennis Holmes reflects on perception and reality

DHInterim blog

I wanted to start this month’s blog with an acknowledgement and appreciation of Sandie Keene who last week retired as Director of Adult Social Services in Leeds after nearly eight years in that role and after 40 years in public service.

In my estimation, Sandie has been a great leader of Adult Social Care, not only in Leeds but also latterly on the national stage.  As a colleague, Sandie has been enormously supportive and appropriately challenging.  She brought fantastic energy to the role and has played an outstanding part in placing numerous aspects of the work we do at the forefront of the council agenda and as an exemplar for others nationally.  For all these, and many other reasons I will miss her as a colleague and a friend.

Now, I want to have a muse about ‘perception and reality’.

A reflection on perception and reality

There are some facts that you just can’t get away from.  Fact number one is that a lot of people work for Leeds City Council and our fundamental purpose is to serve the people of Leeds.  To do that, the council recognises two things.  Firstly, it needs to organise itself to provide services and in so doing, needs to be able to satisfy the legal requirements passed on to it by central government.  Logically, the council has approached this task through the creation of ‘directorates’ and they in turn have organised themselves into ‘divisions’.  In turn those ‘divisions’ have organised themselves into smaller units.

So, while Adult Social Care could be perceived as one coherent organisational unit, the reality is that it is a very broad coalition of activities and tasks, some complementary, some less so.  Our workforce encompasses a very wide set of skills, specialisms and qualifications to reflect that.

We work in many different venues and with different groups of people who may have widely different needs.  Different parts of our organisation have faced particular and specific changes and have changed the way they organise themselves – or are organised accordingly:  ‘fieldwork’, ‘community support’, ‘day services’, and ‘residential care’.

The reality is that there are at least three sets of expectations on us.  Firstly, the expectation of the whole council, that we play our part as individual employees and in our collective teams to achieve the priorities of the council itself; secondly that we do the same within our bit of the council;  and then thirdly, do the same within our particular section of the directorate.

The challenge is to make all these expectations and the priorities that flow from them relevant to each individual in our work, otherwise the perception may be that the priorities are either not relevant to us or in some way lack coherence.

So, how do we meet that challenge?  Well, people tell us that we need to communicate better in ways that are relevant to the specific and particular circumstances in which they work.  People tell us that the ways in which we communicate are often not appropriate or are confusing.  People tell us that they would value the opportunity to have more face-to-face, two-way dialogue and debate with leaders within our directorate about what’s relevant to them in their specific area of work.

So that’s what we’re going to try to do.  This is a crucial time for Adult Social Care, not just here, but in every local authority in the country.  National expectations about what Adult Social Care must achieve and how quickly we must achieve it have never been greater, where demographic changes make greater demands on the care and health system and where national financial support to achieve all this is diminishing rather than growing.

Striving to communicate and engage better than we have before has seldom been more important.

Oh – and I should add thanks for all your comments on my previous posts.  They are always appreciated and I always try to respond to them.  Next time, I’m going to blog about ‘what we do and why we do it’.

Til next time.

Dennis Holmes, 
Director of Adult Social Services (Interim)

About betterlivesleeds

Health, social and age-related care services working together to make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing
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