Aug 182011

Last week we brought you the first installment of a six part tragedy by Jonathan Russell concerning the decimation of services for disabled people in Aberdeen and what we can do to reverse the destruction.  This week we look at the excellent things that existed – and have been snuffed out. By Jonathan Russell.

The Growth Of  Community – ‘Aberdeen Social Work  Team Praised For Good Practice’

The Community Placement Team was set up to provide alternatives to day centre provision for people with learning and/or physical disabilities. The workings of the team were progressed through the development and operation of a business plan well ahead of such developments in other services.
The evolution of this plan involved staff, clients, council sections, and all relevant outside agencies. 

It set forward a vision with targets on a whole variety of areas including work opportunities, training, leisure, finance, fundraising, client involvement, promotion through the media and training of staff. There were also service developments requested by clients including a craft business, a cafe and horticultural opportunities.

A voluntary organization ‘Access to Training and Employment’ was set up by our clients to help progress these client-led resources. The response from management at the time in Social Work was that the objectives in the plan were unrealistic and would not happen.

In reality over a ten year period we achieved all our objectives and went on to improve and expand further opportunities for people with disabilities. Staff and clients were empowered to take on responsibility within clearly structured areas of responsibility. Each member of staff was given responsibility for particular areas of work. At the height of our work we were providing services for 480 clients.

Achievements included:-

  • Receiving the highest possible quality assurance marks for our Department of Work and Pensions scheme, supporting people with disabilities into real, fully-paid jobs.
  • Rapid increase in permitted work and voluntary placements. Work involved seeking out work placements and then supporting and reviewing the placements. People in the main were however supported by employers and their staff at no cost to the council. To resource this expansion as well as the hard and creative work of staff and supporting employers, we received funding for three European funded projects and one from the Scottish Executive, particularly aimed at young people.  A joint project was set up with Cornerstone Community Care which allowed this agency to get further European funding as well as funding from the private sector, which could not be applied for by a local authority. The Cornerstone Employment team was managed by a worker from the Community Placement Team which had an outstanding track record of finding work placements
  • We had an excellent partnership with Aberdeen College who provided pre-employment training courses.  The College was receptive to providing new courses dependent on need. The courses had no cost to Aberdeen City Council except referral and review work. The College also provided lecturers for Community Outreach classes in community settings

Services set up and developed included:-

  •  Crafty Things – making wooden, textile and art goods this grew and grew and was awarded the first Scot Rail award for Social Enterprise
  • Choices Therapeutic Gardening  – a special garden was set up for the physically disabled; allotments were run, and we helped with the
    setting up of the Manor Park Garden. Choices Therapeutic Gardening was awarded the Grampian Television Overall Adult Learners Award
  • ‘Inclusion for All, – a project aimed at including people with disabilities in Community Centres. As well as integrating individuals into the wider activities of Centres, we also became involved in coordinating 12 Aberdeen College Community Outreach classes from computing to job clubs
  • Café Cairncry– a café run by young people with disabilities for a group of Senior Citizens in the local community
  • ADAPT – a project aimed at providing training in disability awareness for employers
  • Va –va -vroom – a highly successful drama group run with the Lemon Tree and putting on a whole
    host of successful stage productions

Access to Training and Employment, along with the Community Placement Team, were also involved in organizing two major conferences.  Out of the first conference a business breakfast was organized with the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Enterprise.

All of these exercises aimed at promoting employment for people with disabilities in Aberdeen. They were well supported by politicians and local representatives of business. As was so often the case, Social Work Management at the time showed no interest and would not get involved.

Leisure and Social activity groups were set up for people with physical and learning disabilities including:

  • Two leisure groups where people progressed from one group to another depending on ability, and were given the opportunity to try out a number of activities. Those involved were actively involved in putting together new programmes. Wherever these groups went they were welcomed by the organizations who owned the facilities.
  • An Independent leisure group run by clients but with back-up support from the team
  • An evening social group
  • Two bowling groups
  • A swimming group

All of these groups were well attended  and operated on a philosophy of fostering independence and progression. Groups were developed based on the demand of clients. The team made good use of volunteers and worked with other agencies where appropriate in operating these services making the services of good value.

The Community Placement Team also worked closely with Adult learning which (until re-organized into three Neighbourhoods and then was dramatically cut), ran group learning and provided individual tuition.   We also worked closely with the Workers Educational Association Reach Out project which ran more informal educational groups ideal for those who found it a challenge to fit into more conventional educational situations and Inspires Local Area Co-ordination which worked primarily in Northfield and the Bridge of Don.

The team identified a gap in services for those with disabilities moving from children’s to adult services. This concern was ignored by social work management until the report by the Social Work Inspectorate in 2008 which raised major concerns.   The Council’s Education Department did employ a consultant, but after a number of (costly) meetings as sadly so often the case, nothing ever materialised — wasting even more valuable, scarce resources and time.

We worked closely with Schools, Skills Development Scotland and Aberdeen College to try and progress the situation for young people in transition. We managed to get some funding via Scottish Enterprise, European funding and from trusts, and developed a structure with Skills

Development Scotland so that duplication of responsibilities for individuals between the agencies involved did not take place. Hazlewood School organised a conference ‘Moving On’ with which a whole variety of agencies were involved: yet again management at the time in Social Work and Wellbeing showed no interest.

Crucially there was no financial analysis in the Aberdeen Strategy of what money was available

On top of this the team also provided a considerable Social Work and Care management role.  This included supporting clients and their career, helping with housing and welfare rights, finding, supporting and reviewing paid for placements with Social Businesses; and attending a whole array of multi-disciplinary meetings.

Like all working situations the Community Placement Team faced its challenges.  It did however have high morale and staff were supported by weekly team meetings, regular supervision and yearly appraisals. Appraisals and informal supervision were also given to part-time staff employed through Access to Training and Employment and Aberdeen College.

All client services were reviewed and this included active involvement of clients with this process. We also worked closely with carer’s and parents and tried to create an ethos that was one of where all concerned parties were working together as part of a team.

The Scottish Executive had an excellent strategy called the ‘Same as You,’ which is presently being reviewed throughout Scotland whose aim was to include people with disabilities in the wider community. The Community Placement Team were involved in developing this agenda, there was, however, a distinct lack of support from management at the time.

As the Social Work Inspection pointed out management failed even to mention the ‘Same as You’ strategy in Aberdeen Councils own Learning Disability strategy.

Crucially there was no financial analysis in the Aberdeen Strategy of what money was available, nor how they could best provide services within financial restrictions. Management was out of touch with the developments that were taking place in other council areas across Scotland and were in effect burying their heads in the sand.

The Community Placement Team was well supported by outside agencies, the major challenge that the team faced however was the lack of support and involvement from middle and higher management within Aberdeen City Council.

Considerable effort was put into trying to improve our relationship with management but to little avail.

So what happened next?  Read all about this over the forthcoming three weeks of Aberdeen Voice in a tragedy in three acts called A COMEDY OF ERRORS MEETS MACBETH

Aug 122011

Aberdeen Voice presents the first installment of a six part tragedy by  Jonathan Russell concerning the decimation of services for disabled people in Aberdeen and what we can do to reverse the destruction.

Services for people with disabilities have been a particular target in the cuts implemented by Aberdeen City Council. These have included loss of services through changes in eligibility criteria, the cutting of Classroom Assistants and Adult Learning provision, the closure of Day Centres  for the physically disabled and for those with a learning disability, and the closure of Alternative Day Community provision.

Given the over-spend that developed in Aberdeen Council in the last ten years, cuts were inevitable. However, some of these cuts have belied logic.

The development in Classroom Assistant provision had largely followed the cutting back in Special School provision. All across Scotland, in line with the Scottish Executive policy document ‘Same as You’, Day Centres had gradually been replaced by Alternative Day opportunities, with a particular emphasis on employment.

Ironically, now the cuts have come they are affecting the very services which were meant to be part of that alternative provision eg. Adult Literacy and Community Learning.

What follows highlights one crucial part of this target, the closure of the Community Placement Team which provided work, training and leisure activities for people with disabilities in the city.

In a damning report in 2008 into the Social Work Services of Aberdeen City Council one of the few teams that was commended for good social work practice and high outcomes was the Community Placement Team.

The Community Placement Team worked with 480 people with both learning and physical disabilities. In particular the CPT were involved in finding and creating work for disabled people, and training and leisure activities for those people, but importantly also providing a wider Social Work service for clients and their families.

The Social Work inspection evidenced the Community Placement Team as an example of good practice and stated:

“In 2006, 29% of adults with learning disabilities had employment opportunities compared with 16 % nationally. This was a major achievement by the service with the figure increasing from 17% in 2005.

“We met a group of people with learning disabilities who used CPT services. They spoke highly of the opportunities the Community Placement Team provided for employment, training and leisure pursuits.”

Within two years the very managers who had been criticised and asked to take urgent action to improve relations and rebuild trust between staff and managers in the Social Work Inspection report, had – with the agreement of the council administration – closed down the Community Placement Team.  This has left many vulnerable people isolated, and in many cases their families also.

  • In the coming weeks, five further articles will be published, written by the ex-Team Leader of the then Community Placement Team, documenting what happened, and making suggestions for the future of services for people with disabilities in Aberdeen city.
Dec 232010

An AGM in these testing times? Is the Pittodrie Board some sort of masochist collective? David Innes reports on the lack of blood and hair on the walls at the 107th Dons AGM held this week.

Before the meeting’s business got underway, a select few of us agreed that had the board not recruited Brown and Knox last week, the chairman would have been issuing SMG construction hard hats to his top table peers, such is the anger among fans about how this season has slumped from hope to despair.

Out of respect for the new managers who attended, but were not called on to speak, politeness and reason prevailed.

The main business such meetings is formal and, to be honest, dull. Suffice to say, directors Milne, Buchan and Gilbert were re-elected and the current beancounters Deloitte and Touche approved as auditors.

The real meat of the AGM is always in the questions from the floor, and this year’s subjects were predictable, which does not mean dull or uninteresting, given the club’s current position.

Directors are not renowned for being wholly open. Like many politicians, they will tell you what they want to tell you rather than answer the questions posed. There were hints of that, although to be fair, not all the floor questions were questions, rather statements of opinion, which made them hard to answer.

On the new stadium, we were informed that staying at AB24 5QH is a non-starter in that new regulations would see the crowd capacity cut to 12000, the disruption during redevelopment would be considerable and that funding it would be impossible. No mention of the destruction of Loirston’s beauty and tranquillity though.

…along with the forecasts for inflation, there may well have to be a rethink. Or a downsize

The funding rationale for The Aberdeen Voice Arena (aye, OK…) didn’t totally stack up either. Pittodrie’s value in the club accounts is a generous £17m, but this had mysteriously inflated to “around £20m” in the chairman’s review, although this did include, he said, another share issue and a mortgage.

Naming rights, and one can only guess at what corporate horror that will be, letting of spare office capacity and other – unspecified – gains from Loirston developments will net another £15m. Funny, I thought £38m was the last estimate I saw and with The Big Society’s VAT rise coming up in a few days time along with the forecasts for inflation, there may well have to be a rethink. Or a downsize. To 12000 capacity, perhaps?

On fitba matters, The Best Number 6 Ever gave his views, although only once did he admit that we do not have enough experience in the squad. Interesting though his contribution was, his focus was almost exclusively on youth development, which in itself is a very good thing, but will not get us out of the current downhill arse over tit panic in which we’re stuck. His claim that seven of the current first 22 are contributing well to the top team is tenuous – Paton has failed to develop, Megginson and Robertson are loons trying to do a man’s job, and the latter and Ryan Jack could have their careers ruined before they start through the trauma of having to cope with train wreck performances around them week upon week. Hints of new signings in January – also mentioned by Archie Knox when I buttonholed him for a short chat after the meeting – may help us finish somewhere between 7th and 9th (8th?) but did not seem to hold out hope of any sort of breakthrough success for a drifting, dozing club.

Hindsight’s a fabulous musing pastime but doesn’t help us get out of the torpor we’re in. We are where we are. We have a large debt underwritten by two major corporate shareholders with nobody seemingly willing to step forward and offer an alternative to the stagnation this engenders. In the wider context, the SPL is a devalued competition, destined to be won by the bully boys in perpetuity unless someone grows a pair and has a go at their warm fuzzy duopoly.

The 107th AGM suggests that this won’t be Aberdeen FC.

Dec 172010

By David Innes.

On Dexys Midnight Runners’ 1982 fiddle-fest Too Rye Ay, Kevin Rowland, with remarkable prescience nailed down the dilemma that Dons fans are facing following the appointment of Craig Brown and Archie Knox to replace Mark McGhee in the dugout and padded Team Recruitment jacket….

Old, may I sit down here and learn today? I’ll hear all you say, I won’t go away (Old)

You’re the voice of experience, every word you choose….. (Liars A to E)

So, is this pairing old, or experienced?

That they are both in the twilight of their years in football cannot be questioned, Brown is already 70 and Knox is 63, but these are men who have kept abreast of every development in football and approach the game from a contemporary angle. I have no doubt that they will stiffen up our midfield and defence and with a bit of wily wheeling and dealing stop the rot and nudge the Dons to a place of relative SPL sanctuary.

Brown has said that he wants the players to be happy and for the fans to enjoy spectating again. That will be tough. Spirits are low in the squad, confidence has been shattered and there is dangerous apathy among the fans, whose passion in the past has helped drag previous underachieving disgraces to the Sacred Red from the edge of the abyss more than once.

Both know football psychology in and out. Whilst the perception is that there will be a good cop-bad cop culture with Knox in the enforcer role, Brown’s spine of steel must have reminded Motherwell fans that their town used to make the stuff, for he too is capable of being a hard man. His preference though, is to get inside the minds of players – there’s often plenty room in there – find out which buttons need pressing and to work with them to build their strengths and underpin their weaknesses. He is no sentimentalist though and it would be no surprise to see some of the current squad being ‘allowed to leave’ if they cannot or will not accept the changes the pair will bring in.

The next few fixtures, Motherwell at home, Hibs away, Hamilton away and Dundee United at home will be a huge test, not of Brown and Knox’s abilities, but of the players’ attitudes, of their personal and professional pride, of their resilience and their willingness to try to keep the fans, well short of patience, backing them.

We can all point the finger at the Board, which will make Monday evening’s AGM ‘interesting’, we can carp and argue about managerial appointments and man-management techniques, can put forward ideas on emotional intelligence, but come 2.55 every Saturday, or whatever time Murdoch dictates matches will kick off, the only club representatives who can do anything about the Dons’ situation are the players. And they’d better not fail us.