Working in social care certain words get a great deal of use. One word which passes the lips of anyone in the field with a rhythmic regularity is 'empowerment.' Empowerment is seen as a universaly positive guiding principle. As an employee I saw my role very clearly, I was there to empower; to empower people who had little power, to enable them to participate in the community and society in a manner which they chose to, not one which was dictated by society's predjudices and iniquities. The reality of course was more messy, taking a step back I performed functions counter to this aim; gatekeeping according to the norms of the institution I worked for and implementing policies (most notably a highly punative charging policy) which arguably disempowered. Empowerment though was soley thought of in the context of service users, staff empowerment was something which received little attention.
I consistently used to argue that staff needed to be empowered (and still do in the private sector where the situations seems even worse - though do so in hushed tones). Staff need to have the tools to do their jobs and their views need to be heard above service manager level, rather than being treated as irrelevant. In my old authourity several policy changes led to a number of quite major issues which many staff had been flagging up as areas of concern long before. The impact on me was that I felt very disempowered. One aspect of the Conservatives plans, announced yesterday, therefore does appeal. Encouraging staff to take control of service provision seems to be a radical step and one which could potentialy see hierarchical 'buracratic' organisations flatten and become responsive.
But isn't this inviting an animal farm type scenario; replacing the farmer (in this case an exec. director) with an oligopoly of professionals. Hierarchies can be flattened but power dynamics will always exist. The alternative is a more pure kind of constitutionaly protected democracy which results in levels of arguement which are personally draining for all participants. There are also the usual unanswered questions, how will this all work in practice, will this be in the context of quasi-markets where staff collectives compete against the third sector and private sector to provide services not to mention the obvious question, is this just a ploy to buy off professsionals who would otherwise be hostile to a policy of pushing state functions onto the third sector, a sweetner to assuage concerns of declining areas of influence for professionals? Or am I being cynical again?
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