The publication of draft codes of conduct and practice
for social care this week has provided nationally agreed standards
across the UK. Anabel Unity Sale
Just a few days old and 2002 is already special. Not only is it
a palindrome, but this week saw a milestone reached when the UK’s
four social care councils unveiled their draft codes of conduct and
practice for social care professionals.
For the first time ever the draft code of conduct for social
care workers and the draft code of practice for employers set out
nationally agreed standards across the UK1.
Staff, employers, service users, carers and other agencies are
all encouraged to give their views on the codes to the General
Social Care Council in England, the Northern Ireland Social Care
Council, the Care Council for Wales and the Scottish Social
The consultation ends at the beginning of April and the final
version of the two codes is expected in early summer.
In England, the GSCC came into effect last October with the
remit – aside from taking over responsibility for training from the
now-defunct Central Council for Education and Training in Social
Work – of registering the 1.2 million social care workers in
England. The GSCC’s register, like that of the other councils, will
start in 2003. Registration will be phased in, beginning with
qualified social workers, residential child care workers and
managers of care homes.
Adhering to the code of conduct will be a condition for anyone
wanting to register with any social care council. While there is no
legal requirement for the UK’s social care employers – including
23,000 in England – to sign up to the code of practice, it is hoped
that doing so will become good practice.
The draft code of conduct for staff contains six statements that
social care workers “must to the best of their ability” follow. It
includes pledges to “safeguard and promote the interests of service
users and carers” and “justify public trust and confidence in
social care services”. Under each statement a number of subheadings
provide further information for workers.
The draft code of practice for employers details their
responsibilities in regulating social care staff. It is up to each
country’s regulatory body – such as England’s National Care
Standards Commission – to monitor the adherence of social care
employers to the code.
GSCC chief executive Lynne Berry admits that the months of
negotiation with the sector about what the draft codes should
contain have been worth it. “This is a very exciting time,” she
Developing the codes was like building the sector from scratch,
she adds. “It is about saying we are a profession, we have
standards, we adhere to them and we deal with people who
Berry believes the codes are important for all involved in
social care. “For the first time we are setting down and
establishing practice and conduct for social care workers and
employers. They will know what is expected of them and so will
She hopes the sector, which has experienced some “painful
scandals”, will be rejuvenated by the codes. “It will give people a
real sense of confidence about what they do. They will have a
publicly acknowledged set of standards that they will be publicly
It sounds marvellous, but do front-line workers feel as positive
as Berry does? Catherine Watkins, acting team manager of West
Sussex Council’s child care assessment team, says that while she
welcomes the codes, she is concerned they do not portray the
realities of working in social care.
“The codes give a nice image of social care, but the reality of
it is a bit harsher,” she explains. “They don’t say that at times
we act in an authoritarian way that may be counter to what a client
or a carer wants, such as when we place a child in care.”
Watkins advocates that the codes should have a more balanced
account of the work social care staff do, complete with guidance on
how they can achieve their requirements.
Hilary Simon, vice-chairperson of the Association of Directors
of Social Services human resources and training committee, agrees
that more examples about how to do things are needed throughout
She says more detail about the importance of inter-agency
working in meeting the codes is necessary. “Small organisations
will struggle with this and that is where partnership working comes
in. Local authorities should be working to ensure that they share
good practice with other agencies.”
How the codes work in a devolved UK will be vital, says Unison’s
national officer for social care, Owen Davies. “It is important
that there are not wide differences in the codes between
countries,” he explains. “That would not be helpful for users or
Berry is well aware of the difficulty and says the four social
care councils are working hard to avoid it: “We want coherence
across the four countries. We do not want to create anomalies and
Although both codes strive to cover all angles, is anything
missing? Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of
Social Workers, says they fail to cover what sanctions staff and
employers will face if they break the codes. However, Berry replies
that such sanctions are still being hotly debated and will go out
for consultation within the year.
She also concedes that some in social care may think both codes
are too aspirational in their aims, “but none of it is
Davies agrees that the codes could lead to positive change. “A
lot of the statements could be seen as pious expressions, but if
they are built into the regulatory system and are used by the
Social Services Inspectorate and the NCSC then they could have a
real impact on improving practice.”
Johnston believes the codes will help to shift the balance from
social care staff as “gatekeepers” back to their desire to help
others, which is why they joined the sector in the first place. “We
must make the codes succeed,” he says. “We owe it to the people who
need our services.”
1 The Draft Code of Conduct for Social Care Workers
and the Draft Code of Practice for Employers are available from
Draft code of conduct for staff
Social care workers must to the best of their
– Safeguard and promote the interests of service users and
– Strive to maintain the trust and confidence of service users
– Respect the independence of service users and protect them as
far as possible from danger or harm.
– Balance the rights of service users and carers with the
“interests of society”.
– Take responsibility for their practice and learning.
– Justify public trust and confidence in social care
Draft code of practice for employers:
To meet their responsibilities in relation to the regulation of
the social care workforce social care employers must:
– Use rigorous recruitment and selection processes.
– Make required checks of police records, relevant registers and
indexes and ensure people are physically capable of carrying out
the duties of the job.
– Inform social care staff about the local authority’s code of
practice for social care workers.
– Give staff clear information about their roles.
– Regularly supervise and effectively manage staff.
– Provide training and development opportunities.
– Contribute to the provision of social care and social work
education and training.
– Assist staff in posts subject to registration.
– Promote and implement practice policies for staff welfare and
– Make it clear to service users and carers that violence,
threats or abuse to staff are not acceptable.
– Support and offer appropriate assistance to staff affected by
ill health or drug or alcohol dependency.
– Provide procedures that encourage and enable staff to report
unsafe, incompetent or abusive behaviour.
– Inform the [relevant social care] council about any serious
breaches of its code.
– Co-operate with [relevant social care] council investigations
– Make service users and carers aware of this code.
The local government white paper sets out Labour’s
determination to implement council scorecards to improve their
accountability. Jonathan Pearce
Billed as a “radical programme for improving council services”,
last month’s local government white paper promised a new dawn for
quality public services, centred on a comprehensive performance
assessment framework for English councils.
Local government secretary Stephen Byers’ “new vision for local
government at the beginning of the 21st century” includes a rating
system, a “scorecard” so the public can see how well their council
is performing, and targeted support and inspection resources
according to councils’ strengths and weaknesses.
Successful councils will receive extra freedoms to improve their
services, such as reduced revenue ring-fencing, a lighter
inspection regime, and freedom to trade more widely across the
range of their services.
But less successful councils will have their performance
monitored against an action plan agreed after a comprehensive
assessment. In more serious cases, the government will apply early
intervention measures, the exact nature of which will depend on
each authority’s specific circumstances and the type of
Whatever the welcome given to the white paper’s proposals, there
are key issues arising from the concentration on performance
assessment as the means of driving forward change. Aside from the
means of assessing and determining success, there is the danger of
creating two tiers of local government by punishing poor performers
in such a way that it will be near impossible for them to improve.
In some cases, councils could be forced to transfer public services
to providers outside local government, according to public service
“What these authorities need is extra support in building high
quality, value for money, democratically accountable services for
their communities. There is no economic logic in forcing poorer
authorities down an expensive privatisation route,” says GMB
national officer Mick Graham. “There is a danger that while wealthy
councils get more power, the poor ones will only have to meet every
30 years to renew PFI [private finance initiative] contracts.”
According to the white paper, failures in individual council
services are often the result of political or administrative
shortcomings at the heart of councils. On their own, service-based
inspections, such as Best Value, are not enough to address “overall
Because of this the government plans to introduce comprehensive
performance assessments for all councils. From the end of 2002 for
upper tier councils and by the end of 2003 for district councils,
the Audit Commission will have published a “balanced scorecard” for
each authority, categorising them as either high-performing,
striving, coasting, or poor-performing (see panel).
The scorecards will be compiled from performance indicator data,
from education and child care inspectorate Ofsted, the Social
Services Inspectorate, Benefit Fraud Inspectorate and other
service-based inspections and assessments, and from corporate
governance assessment of the authority as a whole.
These performance assessments will be complemented by the new
star-rating system for social services departments announced by
health secretary Alan Milburn last October and due to come into
operation by the summer. The star ratings will feed into the
comprehensive performance assessment for all councils as a whole,
which are due to be carried out by the end of the year for
The white paper’s proposals will require a “corporate approach
by government”, linking together government departments and the
inspectorates and agencies which support the modernisation agenda.
The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions says
it will work with the Office of Public Services Reform this year to
develop an implementation plan.
As the chairperson of the standards and performance management
committee at the Association of Directors of Social Services, Tony
Hunter, points out, the white paper is merely a step in aligning
the performance assessment systems across councils as a whole.
“It is an extension of what social services have got used to
living with,” says Hunter, referring to Best Value and SSI
indicators, as well as performance assessment framework
Hunter says the ADSS backs the principles behind such assessment
systems, but adds that they must be “valid and sound” if they are
to avoid sending conflicting messages to the public.
The danger in implementing performance assessment systems is
that the indicators used can be too crude and too simplistic.
Another problem, adds Hunter, is that such systems can ignore the
fact that councils do not control all the factors that lead to high
quality services, such as market capacity and stability.
But councils that do navigate these problems and are assessed as
high-performers will be granted additional freedoms, including the
right to have an existing ring-fenced grant replaced by a targeted
grant, not being subject to the reserve powers to cap council tax
increases, more freedom to use income from fines, reductions in
plan requirements, and reduction in the proportion of ring-fencing
of government support for capital investment. High-performing
councils will also have freedom to trade more widely across the
range of their services, more discretion over the content and
timetable of their Best Value review programmes, and a much lighter
touch inspection regime.
For striving and coasting councils, there will be a sliding
scale of freedoms, while poorly performing councils will receive a
“directed approach to support and capacity building and government
intervention where this is necessary to tackle corporate or service
While it is possible to see the logic behind granting the best
councils additional freedoms to become even better, there is a
converse argument which says the model should be turned on its
head. Precisely because the worst off need the most help, they
should be given the greater freedoms to help them improve, rather
than constrain them with more plans and monitoring.
“There are complexities if you link performance to financial
incentives,” says Hunter.
The Local Government Association too has warned of the dangers
of a performance assessment system. “Any assessment system must be
aimed at driving up standards of public services and providing
better information to the public,” says LGA chairperson Sir Jeremy
Beecham. “But it will only succeed if it has credibility with local
authorities. Local authorities are improving their services. To
succeed further they need investment and support, not simply a new
set of league tables.”
Where serious failings are identified within a council’s
services, the white paper says early intervention through
negotiated or imposed peer and external support will be the first
step. But tougher actions would include the transfer of functions
to other bodies (either another local authority, a not-for-profit
company or trust, or the private sector), placing the council in
administration, and “franchising management” (where stronger
councils are given a role in running weaker ones).
The white paper also promises some across-the-board deregulation
for all councils, such as abolishing the council tax benefit
subsidy limitation scheme, restricting ring-fencing to cases which
are genuinely high priorities for the government and where policy
goals cannot be achieved by specifying outcome targets, giving
councils responsibility for how much they can prudently borrow,
providing greater freedom for councils to invest, and cutting the
number of plans and strategies that government requires councils to
The white paper proposals also include measures to abolish the
number of instances where councils must obtain permission from
central government for certain courses of action.
All in all the white paper is trying to create a new partnership
between central and local government whereby the former devolves
powers to the latter as a means of encouraging diversity and
creativity, but much of its content has been widely trailed before
and in many instances seems only to tinker at the edges of problems
that have long been identified.
The tactic of helping the good councils to do better is fine as
far it goes, but in the struggling authorities the white paper’s
approach could compound the problems. And as the LGA points out,
the proposals need backing from departments across the government
if they are to work. While the Department for Transport, Local
Government and the Regions talks of devolved powers, the Department
for Education and Skills’ latest plans show a more centralist and
interventionist approach that runs contrary to the spirit of this
white paper. Here’s to the future. Happy New Year.
highs and lows
The white paper envisages councils being categorised as
– High-performing – near the top of the performance spectrum,
with high performance in priority service areas, no poorly
performing services and with proven capacity to improve.
– Striving – not necessarily at the top of the performance
spectrum but with proven capacity to improve.
– Coasting – not at the top of the performance spectrum and with
limited or no proven capacity to improve.
– Poor-performing – consistently near the bottom of the
performance spectrum and with limited or no proven capacity to
To read full copy of white paper ‘Strong Local Leadership –
Quality Public Services’ online click