The national college of social work is still only a recommendation on a piece of paper, but already there are signs of dissent among social care organisations about the way forward for it.
Firstly, BASW has threatened to pull out of the group that will steer the development of the college over fears of government interference in it and subsequent lack of independence. Speaking to Community Care, BASW’s chief executive, Hilton Dawson alleged that the £5 million government start-up funding comes with “strings attached” and that it could become “another quango” as a result.
BASW’s council members are currently deciding whether to accept an invitation to become part of the college development group.
Now, trades union Unison, which represents 40% of social workers, has come out with some distinctly lukewarm comments about where priorities in improving social work need to be. Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social work, told Community Care that setting up a college should not become a “distraction” from other priorities, such as cutting excessive workloads and bureaucracy, so that social workers can spend more time with service users.
Unison also wouldn’t be drawn on whether it would recommend its members to join it, when it is up and running, if they had to pay a registration fee.
These missives are worrying; it is only just over a month since the Social Work Task Force’s final report recommended setting up a national college, something that was almost universally welcomed. Yet already, before it’s started, there seems to be disagreement about the way forward.
One thing’s for certain, Moira Gibb, chair of the Social Work Reform Board, needs to work hard to ensure that all groups are on board with the agenda and moving in the same direction. But by the same token, all groups need to be prepared to work together – and compromise if necessary – to ensure these urgently needed reforms make it through.
Dissention could de-rail the whole agenda and end leave social work in the same state it is in now, which surely no-one wants. This is too great an opportunity to change the profession to miss.