SDS National Voice 2023: round up and presentations

A purple square wit the text SDS National Voice 2023 Harnessing Momentum, #sdsnv23, SDSS logo and multi coloured arrows


This year’s SDS National Voice conference welcomed more than 130 people from across Scotland for a day-long programme to reflect on developments in SDS implementation over the past year, and explore ongoing and forthcoming work. 

The conference heard an address from the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care, Kevin Stewart MSP, who expressed his hope that by using platforms such as the conference to work collaboratively and collectively, “we can and will improve on consistent delivery of SDS nationally, which will have real, tangible benefits for people who use SDS.” 

Appearing at the National Voice conference for the first time, COSLA’s Health and Social Care Spokesperson Councillor Paul Kelly talked about COSLA’s “commitment to supporting improvements that further embed SDS within services, systems and cultures.” While he recognised that we’ve “not yet got it right everywhere for everyone”, he also shared COSLA’s intent to “continue to work collaboratively… to ensure people’s experiences of social care and SDS align with our shared expectations.”

You can view the Minister and Councillor’s presentations here.


Self Directed Support Scotland CEO Donald Macleod then shared an overview of our work over the past year, including: 

  • The National SDS Collaboration 
  • Personal Assistant Programme Board 
  • Work to facilitate the forthcoming SDS Improvement Plan  
  • Community Brokerage 
  • Autism and SDS 

You can watch Donald’s presentation here.


Social Work Scotland’s SDS Team shared their understanding of SDS improvement within the current context, through working with the National SDS Collaboration and their own Community of Practice. They explained how their Community of Practice have identified priorities for improvement and how this, and their ongoing work to review the SDS Standards, will improve the implementation of SDS to make a real difference in the lives of supported people and carers. 

You can watch their presentation here.


The conference heard from Sarah Anderson, who as well as directing her own support through SDS, is also a social work student and broker. She shared her experience of accessing SDS – the challenges, what worked – and reflected on the improvements planned in the coming years. 

You can watch Sarah’s presentation here.


A panel discussion with four expert contributors explored questions from attendees including how the SDS Improvement Plan will foster a human-rights based approach, how we can achieve sustainable improvements to SDS given the current social care crisis, improving access to SDS for unpaid carers, and how improving collaboration can achieve better outcomes for people.  

Catch up on the panel discussion here.


Conference attendees were treated to a presentation from Glasgow-based award winning inclusive dance company Indepen-dance, whose Artistic Director Karen Anderson spoke about their approach to enabling people to fulfil their potential through dance.  

You can see the presentation here.


In the afternoon, 10 workshops exploring a range of SDS-related issues were facilitated by SDSS members, partners, and subject matter experts from across the sector. Below you can find a summary of each workshop, links to presentations and contact details to find out more. 

The online event also provided a space for organisations and projects to share their work through virtual exhibition stands. For those who were unable to visit these on the day, you can find the materials they shared, and contact details, below.  

The SDSS team want to thank everyone who contributed to and took part in this year’s conference, and we look forward to welcoming you to our future events. 



Virtual exhibition stands

  • Community Brokerage Award 2023 – 2024 

The Community Brokerage Award is a chance to develop your skills and knowledge through accredited learning.  

It has been designed to cover all aspects of community brokerage in relation to self-directed support. Applications for the  next course, starting September 2023, are open now. Closing date for applications is 31st May. 

Find out more at or by contacting Jenny Reekie  

  • About Dementia – Dementia Friendly Communities 

About Dementia was established within Age Scotland in 2019. It works alongside people with lived experience of dementia to bring about changes to national policies and practices. The Scottish Government has asked About Dementia to develop and deliver a new network to support dementia friendly communities in Scotland.  

You can download a leaflet about the Dementia Friendly Communities here

Colm McBriarty is the Community Development Officer who is managing the new network, and can be contacted for more information at  

  • Civil Rights First 

Civil Rights First aim to promote social justice with delivery to everyone in society, through a valued, tailored advice and effective advocacy service.  

Civil Rights First provides free advice and advocacy to all citizens, on a range of areas including money advice. They have provided this service since their launch in May 2018.  

You can find out more at the Civil Rights First website:  

  • Cornerstone SDS 

Cornerstone SDS is an advice and information support service for anyone receiving an SDS budget in Grampian, operating across Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen City and Moray Local Authorities.  

They provide support to individuals who are receiving direct payments and employing their own personal assistants and also run an Individual Service Fund service to provide financial management of packages for individuals who have picked Option 2.  

You can find out more about Cornerstone SDS’s services by visiting their website:  

  • Personal Assistant and PA Employer Handbook 

The online Personal Assistant Employer and PA Handbook was launched in 2022 and contains a wealth of information for both PA Employers and PAs. 

You can view the online handbook here:

If you’d like to arrange an information session to look at the resource in detail, or have any questions, please contact Mark Han-Johnston:




Attendees were able to take part in two workshops to learn about examples of good practice and the latest work taking place in SDS development, and to contribute their experience and make connections.  

A brief overview of each workshop is below, with contact details for facilitators for anyone who wants to find out more.

 1. What does “meaningful engagement” look like? 

This workshop, co-facilitated by Inclusion Scotland and the Scottish Government’s Office of the Chief Designer, looked to explore what meaningful engagement looks like for people with lived experience of social care.   

The workshop heard views that:  

  • What works well is having flexibility and choice, since everyone is an individual and has different styles, needs, wants and preferences. 
  • The way we record what we hear needs to be able to capture the complexity of people’s feedback. 
  • Being trauma informed in our practice around engagement, including thinking more deeply about how we use language, is crucial.  
  • There is a challenge in engaging with people who are not already well connected or linked in with existing networks.   

The Scottish Government team who co-facilitated the workshop are responsible for the engagement and co-production processes around the developing National Care Service (NCS). They shared the approach they have taken so far, and said they felt the workshop helped them clarify the need to understand the principles of SDS going forward: “Improving the implementation of SDS consistently across all Local Authorities will be the absolute cornerstone of the new NCS. It is therefore important for design and policy staff to understand the principles of SDS and the challenges faced in implementing. This is key learning to help design a better system in the future.”   

If you want to find out more about the workshop, or the National Care Service’s Lived Experience Expert Panel (LEEP) and Stakeholder Register, you can contact the team at  


2. Autistic people have the right to SDS too! 

This workshop, facilitated by Lynsey Stewart, explored some of the barriers autistic people face in accessing SDS, and discussed practical ways to help break barriers down. 

Participants heard the findings of a report into autistic people’s access to SDS, which included: 

  • Even making the first step to accessing SDS is a barrier if it’s a phone call – this alone could mean autistic people are not accessing the support they need 
  • Flexibility of support and approach is essential for autistic people to use SDS to its full potential 
  • We need clear guidance on exactly what SDS can and cannot be used for: the lack of consistency and the fear of getting it wrong can have an overwhelming impact on autistic people 
  • The whole SDS process from initial approach, assessment to using it is not set up for autistic people – this is a human rights issue 
  • Autistic people should be leading the work around autism and SDS. 

Lynsey’s report into SDS for autistic people, commissioned by SDSS, will be published soon – for more information on this workshop or the report please contact us at  


3. Are we getting the best out of Option 3? 

In-Control Scotland explored why Option 3 is the most common way that people receive SDS, and whether practice is keeping pace with what is possible. They asked, how much control do you really have to compromise if you organise Option 3 in the right way? 

Workshop participants reported that:  

  • Option 3 can be useful and quick in crisis situations but shouldn’t be the long term default.  
  • It should have the same level of planning and choice as other options. Start with hopes and dreams and record any compromises – then try and overcome them. It needs worker autonomy and trust to get the best out of it.  
  • Crumbling terms and conditions mean Option 3 provision is not always guaranteed to be available as a safe back up. Across the sector, long term pay support and wider conditions need addressed as well. 
  • We need creative commissioning to avoid losing more providers. Limited rural provision in some areas mean people can end up on Option 1 while waiting for Option 3.  
  • Like other options, trust and flexibility remain key.  

You can contact In-Control Scotland at if you want to express interest in their Option 3 work taking place after April. 


4. Supporting them to support you: Relief PAs and PA support 

In this workshop, Aberdeenshire’s Cornerstone SDS shared their work to set up a Personal Assistant Relief Pool and employing a PA advisor to support PAs.  

They discussed: 

  • how employers access the PA relief pool it, the process for setting it up, the benefits for both employers and PAs 
  • how the PA support advisor has benefited PAs 
  • how the PA support offered has benefited PA employers in the area. 

Workshop participants also discussed how relief pools and PA support could be set up in other areas.  

If you’d like to find out more about this work, please contact Laura Hendry:  


 5. Ethical commissioning – what is it and where does it connect with SDS? 

View the workshop slides here 

Iriss and Scottish Government co-facilitated this workshop about ethical commissioning and SDS, giving the background to ethical commissioning and procurement (how social care and support is planned and purchased) and discussing putting principles into practice in relation to SDS. 

Participants discussed what ethical commissioning means, and shared their views that it should be about delivering better outcomes for people and enabling person-led approaches. 

The workshop explored questions including:

  • How can we measure that ethical commissioning is successful?  
  • Is there a way of aligning the success of ethical commissioning with successful SDS implementation too? 
  • How can small cooperatives or other micro providers be supported to set up and be sustainable in offering flexible support to people – particularly important in very rural areas where larger provider organisations do not have cover, or there is a small population with a range of support requirements. 
  • How can provider organisations be supported (perhaps through new commissioning and procurement approaches) to have capacity to try out new ways of working? 
  • How can people work together to make the cultural change necessary? 

If you’re interested in further conversations or updates on work around ethical commissioning, please contact the Scottish Government Ethical Commissioning Team at ascworkforce@gov.Scot (mark it “ethical commissioning”) and/ or the Iriss commissioning and system change team: 


 6. Supporting people with neurological conditions to access SDS 

The Neurological Alliance of Scotland facilitated this workshop to explore the barriers people with neurological conditions face in accessing SDS.  

It was a chance for participants to learn more about neurological conditions and the common support needs people with these conditions may have, including with balance, swallowing, pain, behavioural changes, and fluctuating conditions. 

The workshop discussed the need for: 

  • current SDS eligibility criteria and processes to be adapted to meet the needs of people with neurological conditions and carers  
  • better information aimed at people with neurological conditions to highlight their rights to SDS
  • social workers to have better understanding of conditions and especially their fluctuating nature  
  • support for people to employ PAs, as this can be a real challenge for someone with a neurological condition. Many would prefer to contract self-employed PAs but this is not always allowed in their area
  • health and social care partnerships to allow budgets to be split between health and social care interventions in SDS. 

SDSS recently worked with the Neurological Alliance of Scotland to create factsheets about accessing SDS for people with neurological conditions and carers – you can download these here:  

For more information on what was discussed at the workshop, please contact Alice Struthers at  


7. The Community Brokerage model in Scotland 

View the workshop slides here

The workshop, facilitated by the Approved Brokers Community of Practice, explored the model of Community Brokerage in Scotland and why they feel it’s vital that this model is part of the landscape.  

Learning from the workshop included: 

  • The Community Brokerage model needs more exposure throughout Scotland, as there was a feeling this was not well understood. 
  • Discussion around the distinction between “Community Brokerage” and commercial “Brokerage” (which relates to some private companies such as those operating in England), and the importance of “community” in the community brokerage approach
  • There was interest in the Community Brokerage Award, particularly from social workers who had completed their degree before SDS legislation came in. 

The facilitators shared the bite-sized training they have developed to explain the Community Brokerage model, and are happy to share this outwith the workshop – you can access this here: 

There is also a short survey on this page about the training, which they’d be keen for you to complete.  


 8. SDS Practitioner Toolkit 

Donna Murray from Social Work Scotland’s SDS Team ran this workshop to explore the resources available in the SDS Library, and share a Toolkit which has been put together by SDS stakeholders and people with lived experience to help Social Workers connect with good practice resources.  

All participants agreed that a Toolkit was needed to support Social Work practice and greater consistency. 

Highlights from the workshop include: 

  • Gathering feedback and suggestions to inform the development of the Toolkit.  
  • Highlighting the need for training, coaching and mentoring alongside the Toolkit and the need for managers and leaders to be familiar with good resources and to be able to confidently support their teams’ learning and development.  
  • A recognition of the role of learning and development teams in supporting the use of the Toolkit. 

All workshop participants will receive a copy of the draft Toolkit following the conference, and are welcome to provide feedback and to get involved in the further development of the Toolkit. 

To find out more please contact Donna Murray,  


 9. Reviewing the SDS Standards

View the workshop slides here

Two years on from the initial publication of the Framework of SDS Standards, Laura Finnan-Cowan from Social Work Scotland’s SDS Team used this workshop to reflect on the impact they’ve made, how inclusive the standards are, and what comes next in further developing the standards.  

Feedback gathered during the workshop included: 

  • People felt the standards weren’t being applied, with inconsistent practice widespread both between and within local authority areas 
  • There isn’t a widespread awareness of the standards 
  • The standards need to be covered in social workers’ education 
  • Health partners need to be more aware of the standards 
  • There is a need for an evaluation tool to assess whether standards are being met 
  • There was a feeling that ‘hidden transitions’ and carers should have more focus, and that people with lived experience and PAs should be involved in further developing the standards. 

The feedback gathered in the workshops will be fed into the review of the SDS Standards – for more information, or if you’re interested in being involved in this work, please contact Laura Finnan-Cowan:  


 10. Influencing leadership, systems and culture – working in partnership with your Local Authority 

View the workshop slides here 

This workshop explored how the Scottish Borders SDS Forum has developed a meaningful and co-productive partnership with Scottish Borders Council, which has meant that people with lived experience of SDS have been successful in influencing SDS policy and practice in leadership, systems and culture. 

Key points covered during the workshop were: 

  • Support in the Right Direction (SiRD) funding for time-consuming secretarial work of the SDS Forum has been very important. Because of this the Forum have been able to take on a lot of the work involved in taking forward issues/improvements in practice and policy. 
  • It’s been important to use evaluation to check we are making a difference 
  • Inviting providers to join the SDS Forum has also been helpful  
  • The Forum has worked to find opportunities to influence the support provider market development, particularly in relation to Option 2. 

The Forum and Local Authority shared their development journey and are happy to share their learning with others. For more information please contact: Elspeth Critchley, Secretary, Scottish Borders SDS Forum: 

Self Directed Support Scotland

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