Clause 1

Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 24 Mehefin 2008.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Power to enter into arrangements for discharge of care functions

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

It would be remiss of me not to mention the array of talent that I have with me on this side of the Committee, including my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, who has a tremendous amount of experience in these matters and, indeed, was greatly involved with the genesis of the Bill through the “Care Matters” White Paper that was published last June. There is also a wealth of experience behind me, including my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, who I am sure will do all that he can to help us achieve the Opposition’s strictures on debating the Bill in full and going through all of the new clauses.

In the past, Opposition Members have criticised the Government for their handling of what have sometimes been called—by myself included—“Wallace and Gromit” Bills, because the track is laid as the Committee proceeds. With this number of new clauses, perhaps the Opposition could be accused of something similar, but all of these are serious and important matters that need to be debated in full. With the aid of all members of the Committee, I am sure that we will be able to do that.

Members of the Committee will know that the Bill is based on the “Care Matters” White Paper, which was published last June, and the care implementation plan.  By way of introduction to clause 1, perhaps I might indulge you, Mr. Pope, by setting out the context of the Bill and talking about Part 1, which includes clauses 1 to 6, because of the intricate way in which those clauses are interrelated. I think that that would be relevant to this clause stand part debate.

The Bill and White Paper are structured around four key principles. The first is ensuring good parenting from every person involved in these children’s lives. The second is giving young children a voice in the decisions that affect their future. The third is ensuring stability and continuity and the fourth is raising the aspirations of children in care. Part 1 will enable us to pilot social work practices. It will allow local authorities to delegate some of their social service functions to more autonomous practices that will be charged with putting the principles into practice.

We are all aware of the many problems faced by looked-after children. We have heard of cases of children seeing as many as 30 different social workers and going through nine or 10 care placements within a few years. We cannot expect young people to set out on the path to success that we are all aiming for if they are living from one month to the next and are reluctant to make ties, whether to social workers, schools or foster carers, lest they be broken. That experience of care often comes on top of horrific experiences such as abuse and neglect. The outcomes for looked-after children are far too poor.

The White Paper sets out action that we will take on a number of fronts. One of those is to test whether the social work practices introduced under part 1 provide the right framework and deliver significant improvements for children and young people in care. I will set out how the clauses in part 1 fit together because they are intimately connected. That will give a broader view of what we are trying to achieve.

Clause 1 provides that local authorities can delegate their social service functions relating to looked-after children and care leavers to social work practices, referred to in the Bill as

“providers of social work services”.

The thinking behind that is to give social workers a sense of ownership and control over their work. That should stimulate greater innovation and support better relationships with children. Social work practices might be a good thing for social work as well as for our most vulnerable children. That is why we are committed to giving local authorities, which are dedicated to providing improved outcomes for their children in care, the opportunity to try this new approach.

As provided for in the later clauses, we intend to run a set of tightly-controlled pilots for evaluation purposes, lasting initially for two years. Those pilot arrangements are likely to continue in place while the decision is made whether to roll out the model more widely. My Department will select the local authorities that will pilot social work practices and will assist with the set-up and operation of the pilots in partnership with the sector. Crucially, that will include the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which is already closely engaged. Together, we will develop tools for the pilots, including a model contract, a payment structure and a proactive contract-management approach to support effective operation.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon Rosie Winterton, Minister of State), Department for Transport

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Children’s Rights Alliance for England is concerned about the possible loss of human rights protection for children in and leaving care because of contracted-out services? Is it his view that the architecture of the Bill preserves their human rights protections or is it within his contemplation that they will lose them under the pilots?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

It is our view that they will keep their human rights protections under the Bill. We will explore that in more detail as we consider the Bill further, but in our view there is no reason why their human rights should not be protected. We consider that social work practices will be a functional public authority. Arrangements with providers of social work services under the clause will be fundamentally different from the arrangements in the case of YL v. Birmingham city council, which is the source of the concerns. In that case, the majority of the House of Lords concluded that a private care home was not exercising functions of a public nature. That is the source of the concerns. In reaching that conclusion their Lordships lay great emphasis laid great emphasis on the fact that a private care home was not exercising any delegated statutory functions. In other words, there was no duty on the local authority to provide care and accommodation to Mrs. YL under section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948. The authority’s statutory duty was to arrange for the provision of care and accommodation, and that duty had not been contracted out or delegated to the care home. However, the functions subject to arrangements under the clause will be functions of the local authority itself. Primary and secondary legislation imposes those functions, so their discharge, by social work practice providers, will be funded by the local authority. For those reasons, we strongly consider it to be absolutely clear that providers of social work practice will be discharging functions of a public nature. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.

Other clauses in this part of the Bill provide context. Clause 2 restricts the functions that the local authority can delegate to social work practices. Those restrictions are important to ensure quality and focus in the services offered. In particular, the independent reviewing officer role will remain with the local authority: the IRO will have an important role to play in the social work practice model, as it is a mechanism whereby the local authority can quality assure the social work service provider in relation to individual cases.

Clause 3 confirms that the local authority can be accountable for the acts and omissions of a social work practice. I am sure that we will come on to that in more detail, as we go through the clauses.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education) 10:45, 24 Mehefin 2008

Will the social work practices engage in preventive and family support work, as well as taking responsibility for the child once it has been taken into care?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

No. The intention is that social work practices will deal with children in care. The type of children whom we anticipate, and the report anticipated, will be looked after by social work practices are those who are in care and who may be likely to remain in care  for a long time, because they are the ones most affected by the problems that we have identified of instability and change, including in the number of social workers that they face during their time in care.

Clause 4 provides for regulation of social work practices. It requires those who run SWPs to be registered with Her Majesty’s chief inspector of education, children’s services and skills and subject to regular inspection. It will also enable us to issue national minimum standards for social work practices and to make regulations under the Care Standards Act 2000 in respect of social work practices, as we have done in relation to other establishments and agencies covered by that Act.

Clause 5 is important because it provides that the local authority power to contract with providers of social work services in clause 1 is a social services function for the purposes of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970. That means that the Secretary of State will be able to issue statutory guidance and give directions to the local authority about the use of the power.

Clause 6 is critical to our work on social work practices. It provides the context for clause 1 by allowing the social work practices set up under clause 1 to be piloted. The model’s operation needs to be tested before we can judge whether it will deliver significantly better outcomes for looked-after children, which is why genuine pilots are needed. We will ensure that they are proper trials so that comparisons can be made on a like-for-like basis. We need to support the set up of pilots, but it is not in the interests of looked-after children for us to prop up the pilots artificially, so that they can only succeed and not fail. We would be failing looked-after children if we did that.

We want to make rational decisions based on the pilots. We want to be innovative and do things in the true spirit of social work—a dedication to social progress and to being bold and ambitious for our looked-after children, which, after all, is the purpose of the Bill. We must be prepared to try out new ideas such as social work practices. On that basis, I commend clause 1 to the Committee.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Perhaps I can ask for your indulgence, Mr. Pope, given that in the first six clauses, amendments have been tabled only to clause 6. If I speak in general terms about these clauses, as the Minister did, we will be able to speed through part 1. I will identify some of the problems that social work practices aim to tackle, and then I have a list of questions about the detail for the Minister.

We agree in principle with the setting up and piloting of social work practices, so we want to engage constructively. Clause 1 gives local authorities the power to enter into arrangements to contract out their services and responsibilities. As I understand it, the arrangements will be similar to the way that GPs operate in GP practices or barristers in chambers in taking on work. We agree in principle because we desperately need to innovate.

Last year, the Conservative party set up commission on social work, which I chaired. We produced a worthwhile report, which was well received. It dealt with a wide panoply of problems that face the social worker profession, starting with the fact that social workers are simply not  valued in the eyes of the public and particularly in the eyes of the tabloid press. The standing of social workers is worryingly low, yet they should be regarded as the fourth emergency service. They are as essential to the maintenance of a vulnerable child and his or her family as teachers, doctors, health professionals and others, but they are not regarded on an equal footing. We support anything in principle that could contribute to raising the game of social workers and raising the perception of social workers.

Too often, social workers are seen as surrogate child snatchers. Too often, the first contact that a vulnerable family has with a social worker is the knock on the door to initiate care proceedings. Many of us would like to see social workers instead working constructively and preventively with vulnerable families at an early stage, doing everything possible to keep families together, rather than adding to the 61,000 children in care.

We must remember that the majority of children in the care system are returned to their families within a year. It is therefore particularly important that the social worker—preferably the same one throughout—establishes and maintains good relations with the child, who may have to go into care temporarily, and with the family to whom, hopefully, the child will return.

We welcome anything that will provide innovation and an antidote to the demotivation felt by many social workers. In parts of London and other inner-city areas vacancy rates for social workers are as high as 20 per cent. As our commission reported, many social workers complain about the excessive bureaucracy, which means that too many of them spend too much time in front of computer screens and filling in forms, rather than in front of children and families trying to sort out problems at the sharp end. They complain that they are too often reactive rather than proactive, and that they are demonised in the press.

An interesting report was produced by the children’s rights director in July 2006, which was all about the comments of children in the care system about social workers and the social work system. We should never forget to focus on the views of the children. The report outlined the sorts of problems that social worker practices will have to deal with. Typical comments were that a child’s social worker had moved them on when they were just settling down in a placement; that children should not have had to stop all contact with their birth families or have been split up from their friends; that social workers should not ignore the views and feelings of young children; that social workers kept changing; that social workers who were leaving were not good at passing information on to whoever took on the child; and that it was important that children got on with their social worker.

We must remember that young people in the care system have very little say on who their social worker is. That is an important consideration for social work practices. All those challenges are faced by social workers now, when they are attached to local authorities, in dealing with children in the care system. The problems will not go away just because we have a new structure of social work practices. Those practices are now being piloted.

I recently met a group of children from the care system in Warwickshire, who came down with the cabinet member for children’s services there. Warwickshire has  been piloting a pledge and has set up a board of children in the care system, so that they can give their views. They have come up with some good things. Some of their observations were that social workers were not good at returning their calls, that social workers should turn up to appointments on time and take an interest in what children do and say. They also said that social workers need to keep promises, that children need to see more of their social workers, and that social workers should get to know the children, perhaps by taking them out rather than staying in the house asking questions. Those are all challenges that social work practices will have to deal with.

A report was issued just last week by Ofsted on the views of parents of children in the care system on how the children were looked after, and more importantly on how they were being kept in touch in with them. As I said, the majority of those children will go back to their birth family or members of their extended family after a short spell in care. More than a quarter of parents said that they had not seen their child’s care plan, and some did not even know what a care plan was. A quarter did not know whether the council planned for their child to return home. What sort of a relationship is that, if parents do not know if there is a prospect of their child coming back home and what the family have to do to recreate a stable environment for the child to come back to? The report also showed that 44 per cent. of parents did not have a say in their child’s care plan, and 38 per cent. did not agree to the plan. Fifty nine per cent. of parents said that there had been no support from the local council to help to prevent their children from going into care in the first place. More than three quarters of parents said that they got no or not enough council support, including help with the child being returned to them.

There are serious problems facing both children in the care system and the families whence they come, and social workers. There are the usual problems of high staff turnover, staff being reactive not proactive, too much bureaucracy, money and staff flowing away from the front line, social workers being deprived of their autonomy, children coming into contact with too many social workers—there is a lack of continuity—and children not seeing their social workers often enough. Those are the problems facing social workers working for local authorities now. If we are to pilot a new form of social work practice, we need to be convinced that those new set-ups will acknowledge those problems and will be able to deal with them head-on and come up with solutions. At the moment that does not happen often.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Ceidwadwyr, Isle of Wight

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is cost? The cost may be different for those employed social workers to those in secondary accommodation. Can he explain how that will affect the composition?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. One of the questions I wish to ask the Minister is about how the finances will work out. It is important not to look at a charge or a social work practice in isolation. We must look at the overall cost of the child’s experience and the overall effect on all social work practices and social work departments within local authorities. We do not want Peter to rob Paul, and we do not want to see  knock-on effects on other children. We do not want to see something beneficial happening for a child in a short intensive burst because there is extra finance available, only for that child then to slip back into some of the problems they experienced before. It is important we take an holistic approach and consider the social worker profession and practices and practitioners within local authorities.

The bottom line must be the outcomes for children. I am concerned primarily with that, as I am sure that all of us in the Committee are. The structures are secondary to achieving the right results for children in the care system—the most vulnerable children of all—who are the subject of this welcome Bill.

I have sat in family courts, and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich has made a profession in cases and I am sure will have seen this first hand. The last time, I sat in on several cases and had lunch and talked with the judge afterwards. He said that in every case that had come before him that morning, the social worker present was not the one who had started the case when he had first heard it weeks or months before. Interestingly, in almost every case in the court that I went to, the social worker was Australian and was actually a very good social worker. Many of them come over here, and we are grateful that they do, because there are many gaps in the profession, as we know. However in many cases, unfortunately, they are not going to be around for a long time. That lack of continuity is deeply worrying in an area where, above all, we need continuity and stability for vulnerable children and their families. Will social work practices provide greater continuity than the stressed and under pressure social work departments of local authorities do now?

There are big disparities within the system and between different local authorities. That is one of my biggest concerns. For example, if one looks at the records, one can find authorities where children have had had three or more placements within the previous 12 months. Three or more placements represents enormous upheaval for a vulnerable child who, in many cases, has come from unsettled and threatening backgrounds. Why is there such an enormous disparity between different authorities?

The latest figures that I have been able to get out of the Minister’s Department show that as of March 2007 in Cornwall, 23.5 per cent. of children had had three or more placements in the previous 12 months—almost a quarter had experienced the considerable turmoil of going into different foster parents, or residential or other care in the preceding 12 months. How can being moved that often contribute to reconstructing a degree of stability, such as being able to stay at the same school and with the same group of friends? I do not know why the turnover in placements was considerable in Cornwall in particular—it may have been an exceptional year. In Stoke-on-Trent the figure was 19.1 per cent. One imagines that the problem may be more severe in inner cities where there are difficulties recruiting social workers, but, in contrast, the figure for the London borough of Barnet was just 5.4 per cent. There will always be  divergence between local authorities—they deal with different demographics and different challenges—but that is an enormous range of experiences.

One of the biggest challenges that the Government face is how to get greater conformity in achievement and, preferably, get nearer to the Barnet level of 5.4 per cent. Barnet has an excellent children’s services department: it invested in its children’s services and social workers five or six years ago and is now harvesting the benefits. Can the Minister assure me that social work practices will go some way to decreasing the enormous divergence of experience in those and the other statistics relating to the achievements and outcomes of looked-after children? Will the Minister target some of the worst or some of the best local authorities in that range as part of the nine pilots? I do not think that the prospective pilots have been named yet.

There are many other examples of good practice; I and other hon. Members mentioned some on Second Reading last week, so I will not go over that again. My point is that social work practices will not be the universal panacea to the problems of instability among the social work profession. We need to innovate and encourage the many voluntary organisations—NCH do a lot of preventive family support, which I mentioned last week and Community Service Volunteers do a fantastic volunteer social worker programme.

The Government tasked Professor Le Grand to chair the social care practices working group, which was established by the then Department of Education and Skills in November 2006. An eminent group of men and women served on that group, including Alistair Pettigrew, who was the director of children’s social care in Lewisham and a member of the Conservative party commission on social work, Lynne Berry, who was the chief executive of the General Social Care Council and has also made a contribution to our commission, and Paul Fallon, who was the head of children’s services in Barnet and to whom I am sure much of the credit is due for the excellent figures that I have just mentioned.

The social care practices working group recommended the preferred model of a professional partnership grouping of between six and 10 partners, the majority of whom should be social workers, and the clauses suggest that the Government have adopted that model. Interestingly, the group recommended that the payment arrangements would allow a fixed baseline amount to be paid to the social work practice by the local authority and that a bonus unit based should be based on the outcome that the social work practice achieves, presumably measured through the outcomes for the children. Again, further detail on how that will work would be useful, as they things come back to the financing of the practices, as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight mentioned.

Clause 1 leaves the details of the commissioning arrangements to regulations, which we do not yet have. As so often happens in Public Bill Committees, we are grasping in the dark for what the regulations that will bring these provisions into force will look like.

I am grateful for your indulgence, Mr. Pope, while I was trying to set the scene. I think that that is important, but members of the Committee can be assured that I will not repeat the process for the remaining clauses. However, I have a few additional questions for the Minister. We want assurances that the pilots will be meaningful and not just be set up so that they can  report and move seamlessly into being the norm across the country. I will be delighted if they are successful and have much to offer, but they are controversial and a number of concerns have been raised by professionals, local government and authorities about the knock-on effect that the pilots might have on existing local authority-led social work departments.

Will the Minister tell us how the pilots will be evaluated, so that they will not just be nodded through, and will he confirm that that evaluation will assess the knock-on effects on the local authorities and the actual outcomes for the children involved, so that we do not risk simply creaming off some of the best social workers from local authority departments to join the social work practices? If the pilots are successful, they should also have a positive knock-on effect for social workers by attracting more people into the profession and improving standards of social workers overall.

The hon. Member for Stafford rightly mentioned the human rights dimension, because the Bill does not say that social work practices, as providers of services, will be functional public authorities, which I think is the technical term that the Human Rights Act uses. That was left hanging in the air after the debate in the Lords, so further details from the Minister would be welcome.

On the level of qualifications held by the social workers who are likely to work within the practices, one presumes that they will be registered social workers who are regulated by the General Social Care Council, but who will register and inspect those practices during the pilot period? They will, of course, be dealing with real children, because this is not just a dummy pilot in a dummy cockpit somewhere. The pilots will have real social workers dealing with children in the care system who have real problems and challenges. Clearly, they must be monitored and regulated in the same way that we would expect social workers to be when working directly for the local authority. Does the Minister know where the pilots are likely to be? He does not necessarily need to list the nine or so recommended pilots, but does he anticipate that the range of areas will give a cross-section of different experiences?

Finally, Unison has some grave concerns. I am not pleading the case for Unison, but it made some relevant points in the brief that we received. It questioned whether social work practices would lack the leverage to facilitate access to other local authority services for looked-after children. That is a fair point. Dealing with vulnerable children desperately needs an holistic approach. A social worker must deal with the local school and the local education authority, and with the housing department of the local authority if accommodation is involved. Can the Minister assure us that social worker practices will have the authority and standing to have that sort of relationship with colleagues, even though those colleagues will be at arm’s length, as they will be within the local authority?

Unison is also concerned that the proposals will fragment the child’s journey through the care system and work against continuity. If the proposals are to be successful, they must address that and social work practices must provide greater continuity than there is now. Unison also refers to the fact that the Government have issued a prospectus canvassing interest from local  authorities. Perhaps the Minister could update us on how expressions of interest are going and how advanced that process is.

In principle, we warmly welcome the proposals set out in clauses 1 to 6 and the innovation that they represent. We hope that the move will be successful, but we need to be convinced of how it will be successful and how that success will be judged. We need to be assured that a proper holistic evaluation of the pilot will take place. We will have more to say about the timing of that under clause 6. I am sure that the Minister will reply to some of our concerns. Most importantly, professionals who are expected to transfer to these practices and those who will work alongside them must feel reassured rather than threatened by these controversial, but potentially exciting, provisions of the Bill.

Photo of Greg Pope Greg Pope Llafur, Hyndburn 11:00, 24 Mehefin 2008

Order. Before we go any further, I must say that not for the first time in my inauspicious career as a Chairman of Committees I have been too lax. I can see that hon. Members want to point out that clause 1 is related to clauses 2 to 5. It is reasonable to refer to that in passing, but in future we will have more tightly drawn clause stand part debates.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

I intend to be fairly brief so that I do not repeat what has already been said. I may stray over all six clauses because then those will be over and done with, but I promise not to make the same points again.

We must remember throughout this process to focus on the individual child. We all get dragged into using generic terms such as looked-after children for those who will be in the system for a long time, but we must think about individual children and what they have told us over and over again about the strengths and weaknesses of their relationships with their social workers. It is important to appreciate that there are many strong relationships, but a number children do not feel that they have been supported sufficiently. Their views on this matter are all-important.

As I said on Second Reading, I have some reservations about social work practices. I want to achieve the very best for our children so I do not have any reservations about the pilots. They will help us to see whether we can improve the relationships between children and their social workers. As has been said, the key to that is a stable, highly qualified work force that is responsive to the needs of children. That needs working on across the board.

I agree that it is important to look at local authorities and social work practices together to ensure that we achieve an overall gain. It is important that this is not a zero-sum game in which we lose in one respect as we gain in another, hence my earlier intervention on the Minister. Social work practices will be very focused on one objective. It is an important objective, but we must be assured that the important preventive work and family support work is being provided by highly qualified social workers.

The evaluations will be key in the pilots. Will the Minister consider having independent annual evaluations in the same way as for academies? Social work practices could be just as important as academies in giving a  different approach. The evaluations should be independent and the outcomes should be looked at by a multi-disciplinary group of stakeholders. It is important that social work practices are keyed in to all of the other services and the multi-disciplinary approach that is worked towards in “Every Child Matters”. It would be dreadful to achieve in one dimension while things slip through the net in another.

It is also important to not focus just on piloting social work practices. I am sure that there will be many innovations within local authorities. We should be looking at those to ensure that we are spreading good practice. My colleague in the other place, Baroness Sharp, mentioned that the Children’s Workforce Development Council is currently seeking bids to trial new arrangements for social workers in 18 local authorities. Those trials will remodel social work teams to improve the recruitment and retention of social workers and other social care staff. They will aim to increase early intervention work and tackle bureaucracy. We need lots of innovative practice and we always need to be evaluating.

Social care practices are in the Bill so they have a high profile, but we should evaluate them fully before extending the pilots. Most importantly, we should look at the outcomes for all the services dealing with looked-after children. We want the pilots to proceed, but we are asking for a more holistic approach that will look at the whole system in this area.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families) 11:15, 24 Mehefin 2008

I will attempt to respect your infallibility, Mr. Pope. However, I think that it would be appropriate to respond to the debate that we have had. We will then have to be very tight in our debates on the following clauses.

Hon. Members have raised a number of questions on the pilots of social work practices. I welcome the tone of those questions in supporting the need to innovate and try out new ideas where we know that the system has not been serving vulnerable children as well as it should have been. We have a moral obligation to try out good ideas when they come forward. That is what we are doing in part 1 and in clause 1 in particular.

I will deal first with the points raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. The Government recognise the need to support social workers in doing their difficult and important jobs. We were pleased that the commission that he chaired on behalf of his political party supported many of the Government’s commitments, innovations and approaches in this area. The Government is investing over £73 million in “The Children’s Plan: Building brighter futures”. We published the document earlier this year; I have a copy with me, and members of the Committee are welcome to one. The aim of that plan is to tackle recruitment and retention and improve capacity and morale over the next three years in the social care work force, including piloting newly qualified social worker status. It will also look at workloads and at the bureaucracy surrounding social workers, which are key issues, particularly against the background of high vacancy rates and turnover in some areas.

For that reason the Department has commissioned the Children’s Workforce Development Council to pilot—as the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned—other approaches with local authorities, to  remodel the delivery of social work and understand how best to configure roles, capacity and support, with the aim of improving the outcomes for and the experiences of vulnerable children, young people and families.

Therefore, it is not just about this pilot; there is a broader agenda as the hon. Lady rightly pointed out. Local authorities involved in those pilots are testing a wide range of approaches, including consideration of the roles of admin staff in social work teams, and the roles of social workers in multi-agency teams, as well as the newly qualified social worker pilots, which will provide managed case-loads for new social workers in their first year’s employment in children’s settings. I have a copy of the information on the Children’s Workforce Development Council pilot programmes, which gives an additional flavour to our discussion about the piloting of social work practices. Those pilots are in the Bill because we have to legislate in order for them to be carried out, not because we seek to feature them or put them above the other pilots and innovations in this area.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham also mentioned the registration of social workers. Clause 2 will require the local authority functions being discharged by a social work practice to be discharged by or under the supervision of registered social workers. There was also a query on how the pilots would be regulated and scrutinised. Many people will pay close attention to the work of social work practices in the pilot phase. As part of the contract management process, the local authority will keep a close eye on the outcomes delivered by the practices, and the independent reviewing officer will review and challenge—that is the key point—their work in relation to the individual children they serve. Ofsted will take a broader look as part of the new inspection arrangements for local areas, which include programmed inspections focusing on the quality of services for looked-after children. In addition, we expect that there will be regular scrutiny of the standards of practice in social work practices, to support national monitoring and evaluation of the social work practice model.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham also asked whether social work practices will provide greater continuity of outcome. Our aim is to find out whether they can. We believe that they have the potential to bring greater continuity and stability for looked-after children, and that there is sufficient evidence to legislate in this way. However, we are not pre-judging that, because we need to ensure that the pilot is genuine. That is why we are testing the model as outlined in the clauses.

In relation to finances and the overall effect of social work practices, which hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, mentioned, it is absolutely clear that we must look at social work practices on a level playing field. There is no point making this the sort of pilot that is set up to succeed. We want to set up genuine pilots that will be independently evaluated. The funding that we are providing, £2 million per annum for the six to nine pilots across the country, is intended only to support the initial set-up costs.

Local authorities receive £5 billion a year from the Government, of which approximately £300 million is “Care Matters” implementation plan funding. Of that, roughly £6 million will be available for social work pilots over their period. In many ways, they will be no  more generously funded than the other pilots that have been referred to, such as the Children’s Workforce Development Council pilots, which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole mentioned. There is a level playing field.

On a point that hon. Members are concerned about, we will ensure that the impact on wider services and other children is an integrated part of the evaluation of the pilots. We want to judge them not in isolation from the rest of the social work world but in the context of any potential impact or knock-on effects. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, if they are successful and work for social workers as well as the young people with whom they deal, there is long-term potential for them to act as a magnet to attract people into the profession.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education)

One comment that is often made by young people is that they want potential 24-hour-a-day contact. Although that might sound demanding, as a parent one is used to receiving phone calls at all times of the day. Does the Minister feel that social work practices will be able to give something extra to get closer to that parental contact? Will there be in the contracts reasons for somebody to be on tap for a longer period?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

The hon. Lady makes a valuable point. We have already found in some of the expressions of interest from third sector organisations that are interested in running social work practices that they feel they will be able to be more flexible, providing not a nine-to-five service but one that is available longer. In one case, I believe that it was to be until 10pm, with special payments available for people who were called out during later hours. That is perhaps a more personal and individual service than there might be from the emergency team in a local authority. There is potential for the out-of-hours service that she refers to in the social work practice model. Again, that is only potential, and we will we not prejudge whether that will happen in practice. We shall ensure that the wider impact of the practices is taken into account in the evaluation.

The funding of social work practices will be set out in their contract with the local authority, which will be crucial. Like any other contact, it will set out the services to be provided, the standards to which they will be provided and the payments that the local authority will make. Crucially, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, an element of the contract will be outcomes-based. It is important that we ensure that social work practices have the incentive to improve.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Ceidwadwyr, Crewe and Nantwich 11:30, 24 Mehefin 2008

I hear what the Minister says, but in many cases social workers are unable to perform their statutory duties, whether health assessments or statutory visits, purely because of the weight of bureaucracy hanging over them. I spoke to a social worker only a few weeks ago who told me that the laptop that used to be on the left of her desk is now in the middle, because she spends most of her time on it. What assurances can the Minister give that social workers will be involved in not only the evaluation but the practice of the pilot scheme, and that they will be given the freedom and authority to get on with their job rather than be faced with the same bureaucracy as current social workers?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Committee and, once again, to the House, and I thank him for his intervention. He is right in the sense that one of the purposes of the social work practices is to create a setting in which a group of professionals can work together outwith the bureaucratic structures that they might face working within a large social services department of a local authority, where there may be 400 or more employees. The hon. Gentleman referred to a GP’s practice as an analogy and that may be appropriate. Working as a team of professionals, with the ability to employ their own admin staff to help with the natural bureaucracy of running any small operation, they would be free to engage more directly in their social work with children.

In evaluating the pilots, we will see whether social workers will be freed from the bureaucracy of line management and of working in a large organisation to be able to run with the ball a little more, with clear direction set out by the contract and by the management of the social work practice. It will be for the local authority to decide whether to engage a social work practice and to negotiate a costed contract, bearing in mind its internal costs and budgets.

We are supporting local authorities to improve the recruitment and retention of social workers through learning from good practice such as that in Barnet, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned. If we could reproduce the “Barnet formula”—to coin a phrase—across the country, we would all think that we had successfully implemented the care matters implementation plan. I acknowledge the progress that has been made in Barnet.

I mentioned the newly qualified social worker status programme, which will be targeted, early on, in those areas where there are recruitment difficulties—London and the west midlands—and will use a major marketing campaign for social workers. Obviously, we are looking at the recruitment and retention of social workers. Social work practices are only one remodelling approach; approaches have been mentioned.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Ceidwadwyr, Isle of Wight

Would the hon. Gentleman see the new operation describing how people are released from the local authority by freedom or where they have an equivalent list of responsibilities, but are a different body?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Children, Young People and Families)

I think that I understand what the hon. Gentleman is driving at. Basically, the social work practice will be working to a contract agreed with the local authority, which, in effect, is delegating services that it would otherwise provide directly. The social work practice will have the freedom to operate as an organisation within the contract, which draws up the services that it is expected to deliver. On that basis I will sit down.

Photo of Greg Pope Greg Pope Llafur, Hyndburn

I think that it is safe to say after that debate that if I were a referee at a Euro 2008, I would be on my way home for not giving out enough yellow cards.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.