He may have only been appointed to the top job as director of adult care services at Hertfordshire CC last month, but Chris Badger understands his patch inside-out. That will give him a much-needed advantage during these most challenging of times for the sector.
Following the departure of Iain MacBeath for Bradford MBC, Mr Badger spent five months as interim director before his appointment to the permanent role. But he has been a fixture in Hertfordshire since 2008, and prior to taking up his new post he was deputy director and operations director for older people.
We speak on the day the NHS announced that a COVID vaccine had been offered to all older residents at eligible care homes in England, and the authority is now waiting for the national guidance on visiting.
It is clear from his comments that he is someone who is interested in personally engaging with residents and families on the impact of the pandemic. ‘I get a lot of emails from relatives about visiting. It’s been one of the most difficult issues we’ve faced during COVID. It’s such a dilemma. We’ve tried in Hertfordshire to keep as much visiting as possible going for as long as possible.’
Which legacies of the pandemic will be the most difficult to deal with, in his view? Loneliness stands out as a concern. ‘I’m really worried about loneliness. We think people will have lost a lot of confidence coming out of COVID. We’ve done some really great work linking communities, and are seeing the role of communities [in] supporting people, and that links to our practice model’, he says. ‘We are going to have to work to make sure people have opportunities to get connected again, whether that is people with a learning disability or older people. And we’ve got some investment going into digital inclusion, which we think is going to be really important.’
Care market sustainability worries him too – and intervention by the council in the market is more than likely. ‘So far it’s been OK, but we want to look at what impact it’s going to have on the care market and what we might need to do to intervene if necessary to support care needs. We will be looking at going into the care market ourselves.’ The council is already operating in the home care market through its local authority trading company, Herts at Home.
But he points to a number of developments that bode well for the future. He’s ‘excited’ about the local authority’s capital programme. ‘We’re looking to invest heavily in extra care housing. It probably looks even more attractive given what’s happening in care homes, sadly. Our residents are telling us that it’s a really attractive proposition.’
With about a quarter of Hertfordshire’s adult care services workforce from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, he is also ‘really passionate’ about the council’s work on diversity and inclusion. ‘We are getting a diversity and inclusion action plan worked through with all the department working on it.
‘We’re looking to develop succession planning for colleagues from a BAME background and other equality characteristics. We’re trying to increase the diversity of our senior management, that’s definitely a priority for me.’
He also sees another key opportunity around the workforce to drive positive change. ‘We have significant workforce shortages in Hertfordshire. I think with the profile of social care being high, we want a push on getting vacancy levels down and really making it a career of choice here.’
What he describes as a ‘decent inflation uplift to get the pay rates for care workers as high as possible’ is required. ‘I’m confident we’ll be able to get that in, subject to the budget being agreed. I think that will be a good offer next year.’
The response to coronavirus among the voluntary sector involving a ‘huge gamut’ of organisations was ‘fabulous’, he says.
The council now wants to quickly put together a strategy that looks to ‘concrete in the different ways of working with the voluntary sector’.
He describes a different sort of relationship with the voluntary sector once recovery arrives. ‘We’ve got more investment going in next year, so let’s move away from contracts and transactions; let’s have a much more strategic relationship, collaborate more and really try to get that positive build-through from this legacy.’
What he is also clear about is that the disease and the lockdowns further expose people who are ‘already massively disadvantaged and struggling’.
But looking ahead at how to ensure growth in the county is delivered in a way that secures and supports social care leaves him optimistic. The Hertfordshire Growth Board – made up of the county council, the ten district and borough councils and the local enterprise partnership – is well established, and he feels ‘there’s really good engagement with all partners on that’.
He concludes: ‘I think we’re absolutely making that case. That’s the really exciting stuff we can be getting on with when we start to get out of COVID, to get on with strategic thinking for the next five to 15 years.’