After months of behind the scenes preparation the 2016 ADASS Spring Seminar is finally here. We are back for the third year in a row back, at our now familiar home of Yarnfield Conference Centre - near Stafford.We are expecting about 330 people over the next three days to participate in a variety of workshops and seminars, ranging from making care personalised to financial pressures facing social care. These sessions will be led by a variety of people: politicians, service users and professional bodies.

The morning was spent dealing with formal ADASS business. Then the conference was officially opened by our President Ray James. Ray welcomed all the delegates and wished them a happy few days at Yarnfield.

The first formal speaker was Barbara Keeley MP, Shadow Minister for Older People, Social Care and Carers. She spoke about key issues within the social care sector including workforce, sustainability and quality, all of which are key ADASS priorities. Barbara mentioned that the Labour Party will be undertaking a piece of wok about challenges facing the workforce. A number of questions were focused on the financial sustainability of social care, particularly about the social care council tax precept. It was heartening to hear Barbara Keeley quote the ADASS/LGA response to the spending review.

The next session was about citizens voices which heard from representatives from Think Local Act Personal (TLAP). Lynda Tarpey, Programme Director, focused on the importance of co-production. Co-production is key to migrating risks. Our biggest assets are people, carers and service users. Getting people’s voices heard early helps identify problems and challenges. Coproduction doesn’t happen naturally, as it takes time to develop successful local partnerships. This will happen as trust develops. “If there is no trust, there is no conversation”.

Sally Percival and Martin Yates from the National Co-production Advisory Group gave very personal accounts of their care experiences. Sally is one of the 1.5 million people who provide over 50 hours of unpaid care. Sally provides care to her mum with complex needs and her son who has autism. A bottom up approach works far better than a top down approach which Sally showed through her son’s personal budgets. Martin employs four personal assistants, providing 24/7 care through a personal budget. Personal budgets have transformed Martin’s life as they have allowed meaningful and trusted friendships to develop, and continuity of care. They all stressed the importance of transforming health and care through personalisation and community-based support. A fantastic way to improve outcomes for citizens is through integration of social care and health which is the government’s aim by 2020.

The third session of the day was a question time format about the sustainability of social care, chaired by Alison Holt a health and social care journalist from the BBC. (Other speakers were Clara Swinson, Director of Social Care Policy, Local Government and Care Partnerships, Department of Health; Vicky McDermott, Chair of Care Support Alliance; Mike Parish, Chief Executive, Care UK; Rob Webster, Chief Executive, NHS Confederation and Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, Care Quality Commission). The challenges facing social care are huge even with the most optimistic assumptions, ADASS estimate that the funding gap will reach at least £1 billion by 2019/20, peaking in 2017/18 with an absolute minimum gap of £1.8 billion.  Everyone in the audience was left in no doubt about the financial challenges facing social care. Workforce again cropped up with the pressures of the National Living Wage, and availability and retention of staff. The panel felt that staff could be retained with a stronger focus on people rather than systems and increasing the status of the care profession. The panel came up with a number of ways to move social care up the agenda: giving everyone a right to be discharged from hospital when they are medically fit and highlighting personal stories, particularly through the media.

The final session of the day was a speech by Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for Community and Social Care who covered a variety of subjects. Social care provides a good quality of life to people. However, commissioning of this is very complex. There was recognition of the financial challenges of social care. To help address this the government has provided additional money with the council tax precept. Alistair called on carers to submit evidence to the governments call for evidence on care. This will help feed into the carers strategy. There needs to be better use of technology to make working practices more effective. The safety of people and mental health are top priorities. The think ahead programme aims to recruit 300 graduate social workers. 

Here is to two further exciting days of the Spring Seminar. Tomorrow will see the election of Harold Bodmer as the new ADASS President for the next year.