Social Work England

Part of Children and Social Work Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 15 Rhagfyr 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Emma Lewell-Buck Emma Lewell-Buck Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 3:00, 15 Rhagfyr 2016

I appreciate that.

Even with the amendments to the clause, the original proposition was outrageous. It has left a bad taste in the mouths of many in the sector, and distrust and scepticism behind the whole idea of the new regulator. What assurances can the Minister give that will ensure that social work regulation has the appropriate autonomy and distance from prevailing Government policy, and that it focuses on public protection, which is the proper priority of regulation? Will he tell us why social work is always treated differently from other health and social care professions?

Regulation of all professions should focus on assuring fitness to practice and public protection. All other professions are regulated to ensure consistent and safe practice. That arrangement provides continuity through the changes that inevitably come from successive policy developments under different Governments. Given that there is little cross-party consensus on children’s social care policy at the moment, and that subsequent Governments could take a different path, this is particularly worrying.

Although the amended proposals for a non-departmental public body regulatory body suggest more independence than was first proposed, a NDPB can mean a wide range of governance and independence options. We are challenging the detail of current proposals that intend for the Government to directly appoint the leadership of the organisation. We expect that the key roles of chair and chief executive officer, as well as the board, will be appointed without political control of process and decision making. Current Government proposals mean that the Secretary of State for Education controls those appointments.

It would be better for regulatory standards to be set out through a profession-led process. The British Association of Social Workers and its partners should drive that; BASW has always supported and campaigned for regulation to ensure high standards and to protect the public. If independence from Government control is not instituted in these new arrangements, that will detract from the profession developing its own standards and setting capabilities and a culture of responsibility for excellence at every single level.

We are also concerned that the proposals risk fostering resistance to regulation and might lead to social workers choosing to deregister if a new regulator focuses on delivering current Government policy and sets requirements for registration that inappropriately narrow down the options for how social workers can demonstrate their fitness to practise. That risk is exacerbated by the probability of significantly increased fees for social workers from an expensive and bespoke regulator. There has recently been a decline in the number of social workers being trained. There is a further risk of decline with proposed changes to training bursaries disincentivising good candidates from the profession. Problems in retention persist. The profession and our public services cannot withstand the further risk of a drain of talent and capacity from the registered workforce. I hope that the Minister understands that and will sum it up in his comments.