Any professional standards for social workers developed by a new “independent” regulator will have to be approved by the education secretary and health secretary, under plans tabled by ministers.
The new body, provisionally named Social Work England, could also have its first chief executive appointed by the secretaries of state and must have all subsequent appointments approved by the government.
The moves, set out in a government amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, mark an attempt by the Department for Education to increase its influence over the standards social workers, and social work courses, must meet.
The DfE had hoped to bring social worker regulation under direct government control. However, fierce opposition to that plan saw it abandoned last week with ministers pledging to create an “independent” regulator instead.
That body will be Social Work England and, if the government’s plans are approved by parliament, it will take over social worker regulation from the Health and Care Professions Council in September 2018.
Ministers have pledged to meet the estimated £10m initial set up costs of Social Work England and have promised to spend up to £16m by 2020 in funding the running costs. No registration fee increases are currently planned and Social Work England would have to consult on any increase, the DfE has said.
The HCPC is operationally and financially independent of government. It is accountable to parliament, not the government of the day. Neither the education or health secretaries has the power to approve or reject its work. Instead HCPC is required to consult “appropriate” organisations, including social work and service user representatives before setting standards.
Last week social work leaders welcomed the government’s decision to pledge a new “independent” body for social workers, but said the degree of independence would be key.
At the time Ruth Allen, BASW chief executive, said: “We are still concerned about its level of independence…It needs to have clear accountability to Parliament as a whole and that needs to be explicit.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Excellent social workers transform lives and we want to raise the status of the profession by setting up a bespoke regulator.
“Social Work England will be responsible for setting standards for social workers – from initial education and training to professional standards and on to post-qualification.
“Ministers will not be involved in the day to day running of the regulator but they, alongside the independent Professional Standards Authority, will be responsible for holding this new organisation to account, to ensure children and adults access the best social work services.”