Ministers have rolled back on proposals for the new social work regulator to be government-controlled after the plans met fierce opposition.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson said an “independent” body will be set up to take over regulation of social workers from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), in a U-turn on the government’s previous intention for the new regulator to be an executive agency of the Department for Education.
Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon, Timpson said: “I am working in partnership with my colleagues in the Department of Health to establish a new bespoke, independent regulator for social work that will set higher standards for social work, both for what is expected of professionals in order to practice and also what is expected from universities and others providing initial social work education.”
The move marks a major concession from the government on one of the most controversial areas of its Children and Social Work Bill.
Ministers previously said they had rejected the option of setting up an independent social work regulator after concluding it was better to “bring regulation closer to government”, due to the need to reform the profession and a desire to “effect change quickly”. The plan was also backed by the chief social workers for adults and children.
However fierce criticism from several sector bodies has prompted a rethink, with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association among those who insisted that any new regulator must have independence from government.
Under the current system, the HCPC is operationally and financially independent of government. The HCPC is also accountable to parliament rather than the government of the day.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It has always been our intention that Ministers would not be involved in the day to day running of the regulator.
“Having listened to the sector and comments made in the House of Lords, we have been considering what further steps we could take to make sure this is the case. We will continue to work closely with the profession and across government as the specialist regulator is developed.”
The shift in stance raises questions over what form the new “independent” regulator will take.
Former education secretary Nicky Morgan, who unveiled the plans for the new social work body during her time in office, said at the time that “we don’t need more quangos”. This was a reference to non-departmental public bodies, the type of organisation set up for social work’s last dedicated regulator in England, the General Social Care Council (GSCC).
The GSCC was abolished in 2012 as part of the then government’s so-called “bonfire of the quangos”. At the time ministers said moving social work regulation to the HPC (which then became the HCPC), a multi-professions regulator, would be the best option “in the long-term for the public, social workers and their employers by delivering independent and sustainable regulation.”