The government has confirmed that it will set up a new regulator for the social work profession that will be independent of government.
Following criticism from the social work sector, the House of Lords and the education select committee, the government has confirmed that a new bespoke regulator will not sit within government as initially outlined.
“Our initial plan was to set up a new regulator as part of government - an Executive Agency of the Department for Education - but with joint governance between that Department and the Department of Health,” said an update on an earlier policy paper on social work reform.
“Concerns have been raised about this approach in the House of Lords and in our conversations with a wider range of stakeholders. We have considered these concerns and have accepted that while the intention of setting up a bespoke regulator is the right one, our plan of having the regulator as part of government was not the best way to deliver this aim,” it added.
Children’s minister Edwards Timpson revealed last month in a Westminster Hall debate that the regulator would be independent.
The policy statement sets out the government’s revised plans to establish a new, bespoke professional regulator for social workers that will be known as Social Work England.
In the statement, which has been tabled in support of government amendments to Part 2 of the Children and Social Work Bill, the government says it recognises the importance of “maintaining the appropriate distance” between the new regulator and government.
“It has never been our intention that ministers be involved in the day to day running of the regulator or to give the government the power to make decisions about individual social workers or training courses and agree this should not be the case,” said the policy statement. “To make this clearer, the government is laying amendments to establish Social Work England on the face of the Bill. It will be a separate legal entity in the form of a Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB), in line with the approach in the Devolved Administrations.”
The Bill now states that a new body will be known as Social Work England and there will be a Chair and a Board appointed by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State may appoint the first Chief Executive and that going forward this will be the responsibility of the Board with Ministers merely approving the appointment. Social Work England will be able to employ the staff it needs, and have a clear set of responsibilities which it will be accountable for delivering.
The overarching aim of Social Work England is:
- To protect, promote and maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of the public;
- To promote and maintain public confidence in social workers in England;
- To promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for Social Workers in England.
The role of the new body will be clearly focused on professional regulation and the remit of Social Work England is:
- maintaining a register of social workers
- running fitness to practise hearings
- setting standards for initial education and training
- setting professional standards, including standards of proficiency and continuous professional development.
“We intend that, over time, Social Work England will work to raise the minimum standards across all these aspects. Government is keen to promote the development of post-qualification specialist practice and believes that Social Work England can play a positive role in this. In the first instance, it will take on regulation of Best Interest Assessors and Approved Mental Health Professionals, and over time may have a role in supporting efforts to develop post-qualifying specialisms for accredited child and family practitioners,” the policy statement added.
Government is currently making substantial investment in social work reform and will support the establishment of Social Work England to ensure that any set-up costs will not fall on social workers themselves. There will be a one off cost to move to the new arrangements and ongoing costs will be met through a combination of fees (as the current system does) and Government funding.
The government estimates that one off costs to set up the body will be £10m and this will be met by the government. Government will also contribute funding to the running costs of Social Work England over the rest of this Parliament of up to £16m.
The statement concluded that there was an “ambitious timetable” to deliver the new body by September 2018, which is “challenging, but achievable”.
“In order to support delivery, we anticipate that the body will phase in new standards over a period of time. This will ensure that it has the space to properly establish its core functions of holding the register and running fitness to practice hearings and ensure that it is able to fully consult the sector on changes. We are still developing the detail of this timetable, but expect that changes will begin with initial education and training standards as the new body starts, moving to professional standards and continuous professional development in due course,” the statement concluded.