The government has denied claims that public funding made available to set up the College of Social Work is being used to recruit members to a trade union.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) raised concerns about the relationship between the College and Unison in a letter to prime minister David Cameron on Monday.
BASW said the College, which has received £5m in seed funding from the government, was offering its £270 membership to members of Unison for only £60. This was, in effect, “establishing a new quango that will act as a recruiting body to attract new members to the trade union”, BASW claimed.
BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson added: “While David Cameron calls for ‘more transparency in public procurement’ and attacks the Labour Party’s trade union links, his education and health ministers have sanctioned the use of taxpayer money in secret deals that will benefit Unison and sustain the sort of quango the government said should be abolished.”
But a spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) responded: “The claims made by BASW are not accurate. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (Scie) [which is facilitating development of the College] is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee, not a part of government.
“The College similarly will be self-funding, accountable to its members with no core funding from government.
“Government is funding start-up and is not engaged in negotiation with Unison – this is a matter for the College. We understand that discussions with Unison are solely about a joint membership offer to the mutual benefit of both organisations’ members.”
The spokesperson added that there were no arrangements in place for Unison to financially subsidise the College or Scie.
In the letter to Cameron, BASW also asked why there had not been a “transparent tendering process” for the original contract to develop the College and for the provision of its trade union services.
The DfE spokesperson said: “Scie was asked by government to facilitate the establishment of the College and awarded grants for this work after an options appraisal that identified them as the only suitable organisation for the work.”
The College and Scie invited proposals for the provision of membership services from interested unions and BASW. On the basis of proposals received, the interim board of the College decided to pursue further discussions with Unison.”
BASW also accused ministers of failing to tender for the £1m contract to administer the £25m annual Social Work Education Grant from 2012, which has been awarded to the College.
The DfE said it had considered a “range of options” for the continuing administration of the grant and concluded that the College was the only sector organisation in a position to take on this work after the abolition of the General Social Care Council in July 2012.
It said Unison would have no influence over the administration of the grant. BASW and the College were, until recently, working towards a merger of their two organisations.
However, talks broke down in mid-September, partly due to the union issue. BASW launched its own arm’s length trade union at the beginning of September.
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