my brilliant career - social services

Arts lover Liam Hughes has always wanted to 'do something useful'. He tells Lyn Whitfield how his role in integrating health and social care fulfils this ambition

Name: Liam Hughes

Title: Director of social services, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council

Age: 50 Salary: c£80,000

Describe your job There are four building blocks to my work.

First, I am part of the council's management board, advising councillors about community leadership and service improvement. Second, I am director of social services, securing social services for vulnerable people. Third, with Paul Smith, assistant chief executive of the health authority, and the four primary care trust chief executives, I develop integrated health and social care areas across the district. Fourth, I have been involved with the design and evaluation of Bradford's health action zone, and I have been appointed non-executive director for the Health Development Agency.

What attracted you to this career?

I always wanted to do something useful - most people who do this sort of work have a vocation or a strong sense of public service. As a student journalist, I interviewed Lucy [Baroness] Faithfull, one of the great social work pioneers, whose commitment sparked off my enthusiasm.

What was your career path?

I studied social work and social policy at the London School of Economics, and took a mental health placement at the Bethlem Royal Hospital and Maudsley trust, where people like Felix Post, the first psychogeriatrician, were influential. I worked in resettlement in south London, then moved to Barnet to manage day and residential services. In 1985 I moved to Kirklees, where I was involved with the closure of a long-stay hospital. I became chief social services officer, and then moved to Bradford in 1995.

What qualifications do you have?

I studied history and economics at Keble College, Oxford, before taking a masters degree in social work at the LSE. Later, I completed an MBA with the Open University, and an MA in government planning from what is now the Guildhall University. Definitely a life-long learner.

What attracted you to your current job?

I was born here, and enjoy the rich diversity of people and places in the district. The scale of the challenge for public services is enormous - being director of social services in the fourth largest Met is definitely a 'big gig'. I was impressed by the quality of the staff, and the 'can-do' culture.

Why have you been able to get so involved in health?

This district recognised early on that many of the building blocks for health were at the heart of local government - education, housing, environmental improvement, community engagement. Working relationships have been excellent, and there was a firm foundation to build up new initiatives. Social services have an interest in health because we see the effects of coronary heart disease, strokes, diabetes, poor mental health, and alcohol and drug misuse.

What was your career high point?

My high point is always the job I am in at the moment. Joining the HDA was an achievement because it reflects well on all colleagues who have supported our efforts to connect up regeneration, community development, social care and health improvement. I was also delighted to have supported PAT 12 on young people - the Social Exclusion Unit report that led to the Children's Fund and the idea of a national youth strategy.

And the low point?

I was in Brixton 20 years ago, and in Bradford this summer when riots broke out. I feel very deeply that as a society we should have been able to offer our young people a brighter future.

Can you imagine doing anything else?

I wouldn't be good in a dot. com, though IT fascinates me. Perhaps I would have succeeded as an arts administrator or in a 'think-tank'. But the new primary care trusts are exciting creatures.

What do you do to relax?

Music, performing arts, my family, some walking, travel. I am particularly interested in celebrating the arts and am involved with Lantern House in Ulverston, which explores the spiritual anthropology of birth, life and death.

Do you have any remaining ambitions?

My ambitions are for the next generations - for peace, fulfilled lives, sustainable communities.

And I would like to be part of the new landscape of public services that is being created.

Do you have any career advice?

Have courage and be prepared to try things out.

Be diligent, and make your own luck by moving around. Never sacrifice your core values, and never forget the ethos of the service.

Just the job

Title: Most heads of social services authorities are still known as 'director of social services'. But new titles are creeping in, as the job is combined with other functions. 'Director of community affairs' is a modish variant.


Numbers: 179 (excluding Scotland, where, as ever, the system is different).

Status: The people doing the job find it exciting - as Mr Hughes says, 'every day is different'. They are seen as hard working and committed - 'there are not many timeservers', says one close observer. On the other hand, social work is a high-risk environment - 'they dream of dead babies.'

Distinguishing features: Being a good administrator is not enough. Directors of social services have to be able to catch money coming down a number of silos and need an acute political nose.

Prospects: The job is more complicated than it was four years ago, and is changing all the time. There is no reason to think life will get any simpler as the government ups its demands for 'delivery'.