The back office

Can you remember the last time you tried calling someone and the phone just rang and rang! Its so frustrating knowing what you want to say and running it through in your mind over and over again just waiting for someone to answer at the other end.  Especially if what you have to say is important or more importantly the way you say it and the words used to express it.

Often when you try and contact a social work office the first person you will speak with is not a social worker but our Business Suppport.  Often they might even be the only people in the office whilst the social workers are out on visits, meetings or in court, or off sick. 

Business Support know how the office work, they know how to manage social workers and more importantly they have excellent customer service skills.  With out any specialist training they can manage the calls that come in and help the person calling get the message out that they want so they can speak with the right person.

Business Support can record meeting minutes and have them typed up ready for distribution quicker than I can work out where Microsoft Word is on my computer.  They can find and file any paperwork ,and know where it should be.  More importantly they can change the dynamic of the office, often making the mood lighter and manage the systems that other people do not even think about (such as the tea fund) 

Some Business Support officers take on different roles specialising in different areas of the business, but all knowing what each others role is.  Providing support and a good level of service to those that need them including the social workers and the public.

However, like every other department in the Public Sector the axe is coming with more force to make savings.  50% savings to the stationary budget – I can live with this it just means that when I put my pen down I just have to remember where that was.  But what I will find hard to manage is 50% less Business Support.

In the team I currently work in we deal with a lot of money as the Business Support pays the bills for our placements, weekly allowances for the Young Person and any other money.  There is a complex code system that breaks down the money we spend and shows from which budget to pay for that request.  I have to confess I can not remember a single code after a year working in this team.  Yet I hear our one Business Support officer could be cut, and the money for our team managed from a office with the registrars department.  I am sure anybody coming in for a Civil Wedding Ceremony will want to have one of our Young People “Kicking off” in the back ground demanding their money.

What I also find difficult to understand is the way in which these cuts are going to be introduced.  Sitting next to the Senior Business Support officer today, I am asked whether I have been invited to a consultation session.  I laughed (not insensitevely) but because no one is ever invited, I was more shocked when I was shown that it was going to explain the new business model.  “What makes me angry” I hear “is that the new Business Model has not been explained to the Business Support!!”.   “We are left to hear what the model will be like in drips and drabs” the Senior Business Officer explains whispering so that her staff can not hear her.  I ask whether we could just turn up at these meetings so that I can express my anger!

“The value of administrative support to social workers is often misunderstood or worse, disregarded, often being selected as the prime target for cost saving measures. For professional and safe practice within limited resources, however, this is often a false economy”

Eileen Munro highlights in her final report how Business Support is often misunderstood, simple administritive tasks can take over a whole day, taking social workers away from the work that is needed.  When families are in crisis and in need of support and advice.  There should not be a sound of a ringing phone to listen to when calling Social Care.  Or social workers unable to visit because they are driving a photocopier rather than a car to a visit. 

Can Business Support in Social Care really be classed as the same within any other Local Authority department, and more importantly can they be put through the same cost saving processes? As a social worker I know that I am able to manage my own filing, and capable of using the computer but Business Support is much more than this for me and for social work. 

But I am sure these cuts will be made and the pressures will be transferred to those left within the office, having a greater impact on the quality of work that is produced!

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