Setting up a national college of social work must not become a “distraction” from vital reforms such as tackling excessive workloads, Unison has warned.
Helga Pile, Unison’s national officer for social workers, confirmed the union, which represents 40% of all registered UK social workers, will take part in initial discussions about the college.
But she said: “Our members’ priorities for social work reform are tackling excessive workloads, improving defective IT systems, bringing down bureaucracy and giving social workers more time to spend with children and vulnerable adults. Our members need to see massive changes to improve their working conditions and boost their morale.
“Setting up a college will not be a magic bullet for solving these problems. Unison will be working to make sure that the debate around setting up a college does not become a distraction from getting on with the job of putting in place the important recommendations the social work taskforce has made.”
Pile said: “Unison believes that an independent college, accountable to members, could play a role in promoting the profession in the long term.”
No early commitment
Yet when asked if Unison would encourage its members to join the college, a spokesperson replied: “It’s too early to say.”
A Unison spokesperson said: “Social workers already pay a professional [registration] fee, and due to the nature of their work many of them want to be members of a trade union.
“Unison is concerned that making them foot the bill for another registration fee could leave them out of pocket.”
Scie to facilitate college development
At a meeting of key partners convened by the Department of Health and Department for Children, Schools and Families on the 18 December, it was agreed that the Social Care Institute for Excellence would set up and facilitate the initial stages of a college development group.
The group’s first meeting, to be held by the end of January, will discuss governance and project planning, as well as the functions and powers of the college.
A spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said practitioners, professional associations, unions, employers, educators and service users would all be closely involved in setting up the college to ensure that the body “is owned by and speaks for the profession”.
The spokesperson added: “We would not want the current debate to prolong the formation or weaken the proposition [of a national college].”
Social work reform board: overseeing the task force’s recommendations
Several national organisations have received invitations to join the Social Work Reform Board, which will oversee implementation of the Social Work Task Force’s 15 recommendations.
These include the British Association of Social Workers, Unison, the General Social Care Council, the Association of Professors of Social Work, the Social Policy and Social Work centre (SWAP), the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Scie have been invited to observe.
The board will also include representatives from the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for universities.
A spokesperson for the DCSF said it was discussing with frontline social workers and service users “the best way to ensure their voices are heard”.
The invitations have been sent by Moira Gibb, the chair of the Social Work Reform Board, who also acted as chair of the taskforce.
A spokesperson for Camden Council said Gibb’s role as chief executive of the London borough would not change despite the additional duties.