Minister: ‘We won’t privatise child protection or politicise social work’

Edward Timpson tells children's services directors to dismiss "conspiracy theories" around government's social care reform agenda

Children's minister Edward Timpson Picture: Rex/Shutterstock

The government will not privatise child protection or “politicise” social work, the children’s minister has said.

Edward Timpson urged delegates at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services conference to ignore “conspiracy theories” on the motives behind the government’s social care reform agenda.

Key planks of the reforms, which are underpinned by the Children and Social Work Bill, have generated controversy.

Powers to grant councils exemptions from certain children’s social care legislation have sparked fears they could undermine children’s rights and incentivise more private providers to take on services. Plans to bring the regulation of social workers under government control have been met by concerns the profession’s foundations could be shaped by short-term political priorities.

Timpson dismissed those fears today and insisted the reforms aimed to free-up professionals and leaders to create “an environment where excellent practice can flourish”. He said testing and evaluating new ways of working should become the norm for services and praised several councils for initiatives trialled through the Department for Education’s social care innovation programme.

He said: “The main thing I want to say about this strategy is this is your opportunity to work in the way that you know best for children. The future I want to see is one in which excellent and emboldened professionals, like yourselves, don’t shape your practice to comply with any diktat from me or from Whitehall or even the Ofsted framework. I want you to feel confident to keep pushing the boundaries to redefine what works through rigorous and evidence-based practice.

He added: “The bill currently before parliament does what many of you asked and goes even further. Through the new power to innovate we’re looking to say that ultimately excellent frontline social work practice should be defined not by the government, or parliament, but by local practice leaders with more freedom to operate within a clear statutory framework. So our commitment to innovation and flexibility and our determination to put you in the driving seat is real.

“It is right that we debate this, the quality of which in parliament is strong, but let us have a debate not based around conspiracy theories but on the facts as they stand. Stories about the government wanting to privatise child protection services might sell newspapers, but it has absolutely no basis in fact.

“Stories about government seeking to politicise the social work profession couldn’t be more wrong. We don’t want to privatise child protection services. We won’t privatise child protection services. And we won’t politicise the social work profession. Our changes are unashamedly designed to help social work move forward to the kind of high public service profession we all want it to be.

“I am, for better or worse, an undiluted pragmatist. I’m interested in what works. So let’s focus on what we’re trying to achieve and not what others would have us believe. My message is that there is a choice for each of you and all your social work teams. You can either see the worst in government, or see conspiracies and threats, or you can see and seize the opportunity to help shape social care in a way that puts the best practice leaders in charge of defining what excellence is.”

A coalition of social work organisations and unions, including the British Association of Social Workers, has called on the government to drop the controversial innovation clause in the bill and scrap the plans to bring social worker regulation under government control. The bill is currently going through parliament.

Timpson used the speech to launch a new government strategy for care leavers. He also announced the government would launch a national stocktake of fostering, to look at how placements are made, how the market operates and examine what skills and support different foster carers need to meet the needs of looked-after children.

4 Responses to Minister: ‘We won’t privatise child protection or politicise social work’

  1. Ray Jones July 8, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    The difference between rhetoric and action.

    In 2014 the government changed regulations so that any organisation can now be contracted to provide statutory children’s social work services – including private commercial companies. They will have to set up an apparent non-profit subsidiary but the parent company can then sell services to its subsidiary at any price determined by the parent company. Smoke and mirrors to generate a profit.

    And at the September 2014 DfE invitation-only workshop particular attention was given to how to make the market place to be created attractive for new market entrants. Reducing the requirements for these market entrants to be registered, inspected, and regulated in their own right was a second regulatory change introduced in autumn 2014.

    The autumn 2014 meetings at the DfE were attended by G4S, Serco, Virgin Care, Amey, Mouchel and others to discuss future arrangements for children’s social work services and how ‘newcos’ (new companies) might be encouraged into the market place to be created. The message was reinforced when in 2015 Mr Cameron argued that ‘market insurgents’ are needed to shake up and improve children’s social services.

    And in the current Children and Families Bill it is intended that organisations providing children’s social work services will be able to have the secretary of state for education remove requirements that they fulfill all statutory requirements. This is presented as allowing innovation – but local authorities across the country are already demonstrating considerable innovation nd creativity – albeit in the context of cuts and austerity at a time of an 80% increase since 2008 in child protection workloads. To give the secretary of state discretion to overrule carefully constructed and argued statute again gives the opportunity to encourage and promote the market place the government wants to create.

    And if there is no intention of having political control of who can become and continue as a social worker, what should be within their professional education, and who can provide this information, then I am sure the government would want to make this explicit by ensuring the new social work regulator it is intending to create is independent of any political control and influence. It should therefore be shortly seen that the Children and Social Work Bill will be amended by the government to make clear that the new regulator will not be a government ‘executive agency’ accountable to and therefore ultimately shaped and controlled by or on behalf of the secretary of state for education. This quick U-turn is to be welcomed – or is there another gap here between rhetoric and reassurances and the government’s intentions as demonstrated by its actions?

  2. June Thoburn July 8, 2016 at 6:18 pm #

    As with planning for children, UNNECSSARY delay is not good, but RUSH can lead to failed placements and very poor outcomes. The proposals at Clause 15 etc in this Bill weaken the access of children, parents and carers to the protection of legislation that has stood the test of time, probably because of the extensive consultation and planning and drafting processes that preceded the 89 Act. The proposals in Clause 20 etc insult and undermine the profession. Unlike our colleagues in the other health professions we are somehow (on the basis of assertion rather than evidence) not strong enough to be independently regulated; and our professional association (with 20,000 plus social work members) not up to the task of working with government and the academy to establish and evaluate a quality social work service.

    So what is the rush with this Bill, and why combine a Bill that is focused on Children legislation with one that changes regulation of all social workers, and puts them under ministerial control (and subject to fluctuation about which Minister). The tried and tested method of making fundamental change to public protection professional regulation and children’s rights to service is to produce a White Paper, consult widely on it, especially with those who use services, and those who will need to implement new laws, and then produce a draft Bill. The process followed in this case has been to follow up a few (un-evidenced) ministerial speeches and speeches by Chief Social Worker with a very loosely drafted Bill: say, don’t worry, we know what is good for you and the adults and children you work with; our intentions are honourable, of course we don’t intend to open the door to private profit despite the fact it is already wide open; and we will be consulting once the Bill has been passed.

    Their Lordships have provided some very cogent arguments as to why the Government should listen to the extensive critique coming from all quarters

  3. Dan July 12, 2016 at 2:09 pm #

    I hope that this is true.

    We are regularly seeing how the corporatisation of social care is damaging quality of care. Businesses supporting the social care sector can be a good thing, but not running it.

  4. LongtimeSW July 15, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

    ” . . . . . stocktake of fostering . . ”

    ” . . . . how the market operates . . .”

    How is it that we are supposed to accept as gospel the language of this Government when it has its roots in those of privatisation?

    You may have gathered, SOCIAL WORKERS DON’T TRUST YOU OR YOUR BOARDROOM FRIENDS.

    I am reminded of the above by a Despatches Documentary that outlined how a number of firms, including Capita and, I believe, the then Securicor (now Serco?), factored in up to 5 years of losses in order to win the millions availiable from Local Authority/NHS care contracts. Unashamedly the justification (to shareholders?) was the expected profits from leaseback, PFI’s etc.

    Folks, that time is now upon us.