TEASC's AMBITION IS for excellent adult social care services to be delivered locally, supported by a regional and national programme of sector-led improvement (SLI). TEASC underpins the introduction of new policy and helps to sustain proven, cost-effective, high quality services, tailored to individual need. David Pearson, who chairs the TEASC Board, set us six priorities for the year:

* Local accounts

We want local accounts in each council ensuring and demonstrating local engagement and accountability. If you are not convinced of the benefit of this approach look at Dudley, Wakefield and Suffolk for good examples. Developing a local account will underpin your implementation of the Care Act as well as deliver a new relationship with your community. If you are struggling with achieving this, TEASC can help. So please get in touch.

* Sharing best practice
This is not a time for adult social care to hide its light under a bushel. This is a time to shout about all the excellent work that is happening across the country in every council and adult social care department.

TEASC leads, working with the ADASS regional chairs, are providing best practice examples and we are loading them onto our website and sharing them country-wide The regions are doing some fantastic sector-led improvement work which has included benchmarking their performance on ASCOF data, challenging each other’s performance and putting performance plans in place together.

They have also carried out peer challenges on safeguarding adults which have proved extremely beneficial and challenging, and have delivered improvement in the authorities being reviewed as well as those of the reviewers. This work in particular has proven the concept of the power of peer challenge, the transparency this brings and the far reaching nature of the inquiry involved. It has also resulted in long-term, ongoing challenge between authorities, which continues to improve their approach.

Linking these challenges to adopting the Making Safeguarding Personal approach (MSP) which Cathie Williams and Adi Cooper have so expertly developed and implemented, means that each DASS has a comprehensive package of improvement available in probably the most important element of our business.

DASS-to-DASS peer challenges have been adopted in some regions demonstrating the maturity of a leadership system which encourages such transparency and openness and an absolute commitment to improvement. Linking councils of similar size and demographic helps to build a picture of the very different responsibilities which DASSs hold at a time of fast and complex change. These challenges also provide welcome opportunities for peer support.

If we are to deliver the enormity of the Care Act reforms as well as support the NHS and make the money work we need to support social care leaders in every way we can.

* Demonstrating outcomes

One of the real challenges of SLI is to prove it works in improving the outcomes for those people using social care services. We will be doing that through supporting regions in their analysis of ASCOF but also in developing in-year reporting of key data which, if used with the local accounts, can be a valuable way of working with local communities - demonstrating what has been achieved and being open about what has not - and making a new plan together.

Data can only tell us so much however. Different organisations’ experiences - and most importantly individual experiences themselves - tell us so much more. That's why we are taking a rigorous approach to sharing best practice examples and ensuring they are not just anecdotes but proven examples of service improvement at an individual and organisational level. We also want to encourage people who use our services, and their carers, to get involved in the SLI approach to increase the transparency of our approach.

* Building confidence with stakeholders:

Sector-led improvement is a mature, continuous and sustainable way of delivering better services. If or when inspectors call, you will know where your risks and weaknesses are and already have a plan in place to deal with them.  It is what all good organisations do to ensure they are always learning from best practice and local and national experiences.

Some think it is hard to judge the impact of SLI in isolation but we already see real examples of where a sector-led approach has raised standards across the region and the sector, rather than just within the council alone.

Communicating those achievements is key to others seeing and understanding the difference it has made. On our website we have videos and case examples and the regions produce regular reports on the work they have done. We will also be promoting the achievements in the media and through regional events.

We have an independent evaluation of the work of TEASC being done by shared intelligence which will report early in 2015 from which we can build. We want to ensure that the wider social care community not only understands and uses SLI but sees how it delivers more effectively than other improvement systems.

* Identifying and supporting councils who are struggling.

Expressions like `unprecedented times’ are overused but still absolutely true - never before have we faced such a challenging financial position, while implementing complex new legislative and policy change. Inevitably some authorities will struggle to deliver at some time in some aspects of their service.

There are some who have already described themselves as being on the brink financially. Others for whom the challenges in children’s services can feel overwhelming. And many who work in very complex and sometimes troubled health economies. These circumstances emerge as risks and managing those risks can be easier if we are aware of their impact and address them together.

There are many reasons why that might not be happening. Colleagues, taking a sector-led improvement approach, can help to identify and mitigate those risks through providing immediate extra capacity, through peer challenge and through using self assessment tools.

David Walden and Rachel Ayling are working with ADASS regions to create a model for identifying the core risks in ASC, identifying the contextual risks which councils may be facing and developing a tool for councils and colleagues to use to assess whether councils are taking the right actions to ensure continued safe delivery of services.

6. Offering support

We have been developing an Access to Improvement Project to ensure regions know who to go to for best practice advice and consultancy support when they have identified pieces of work they need to do.

We have also recently appointed adult improvement advisers (AIAs) at the LGA who work with regional chairs and the LGA principal advisers to support DASSs and councils to deliver. Acting as brokers of professional, project management and leadership support, they also act as a sounding board for DASSs to help them problem solve locally.

The AIAs are also a link into other programmes of work, such as the Care Act implementation and resources which might support their Better Care Fund plans. Given the pace and enormity of change in ASC currently, the speed of providing support and expertise is critical and underlines the importance of having continual self awareness and challenge in the improvement agenda.

Another valuable piece of work which is a support to DASSs is the recently updated Use of Resources self-assessment tool developed by Rachel Ayling which builds on the work John Bolton has done. The ADASS budget survey shows us that we are having to do far more to make the money work and the tool will help councils identify where savings have been made in a range of different councils all of whom are at different places financially.

As well as these six priorities we are exploring how we work with the voluntary sector and the private care market to see how they can build a sector-led approach into their improvement approach and with partners in health to see how we can commission services better together.

Being a DASS in local government has never been harder. Sector-led improvement means that when it also feels the loneliest job in the world, it need not be: colleagues and critical friends are willing and able to help. Using the best knowledge and practice in the field and taking an open and honest approach to improving services for the people we care most about.

Sarah Mitchell
Director of Towards Excellence in Adult Social Care (TEASC)
07717 720620