This autumn, Lynne Berry becomes head of the new General Social
Care Council, the organisation responsible for regulating the
profession. Rachel Downey talked to the new public face of social
The regulation of the social care profession faces its most
substantial shake-up in just under three months’ time when the task
of registering all social workers begins.
The social care world has long argued for a regulatory body,
seeing it as a means of improving public confidence and raising the
status of the profession.
Now the profession in England has the General Social Care
Council, which will devise the codes of standards of conduct and
practice for both staff and employers, as well as regulating social
work education and training.
Heading this influential body is Lynne Berry.
She comes to the role after a variety of jobs, primarily in
social care. She worked for the National Institute for Social Work,
the Family Welfare Association and the Charity Commission, and
latterly filled the top job at the Equal Opportunities Commission.
She is well-equipped for the GSCC’s tasks – she chaired the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation’s commission on standards and codes of practice
in the voluntary sector and worked on the development of complaints
procedures for children in care while at NISW and on secondment to
the Department of Health.
Many would regard her present position heading the EOC as a
higher-profile one but she maintains she was attracted to the GSCC
job by the opportunity to set up an organisation from scratch.
Another attraction was her belief that social work and social
care are now at the heart of the current “agenda about creating a
more just society”. It is a time when the profession is being taken
seriously, she believes. Witness the snazzy new offices overlooking
the Thames allocated to the council – no longer is social care
going to be relegated to some dark corner.
“It does feel as if the whole of the social work and social care
world is central to the sort of debates about where society is
going and our sense of mutuality.” Therefore, the profession has no
need to be defensive or overly protective and instead needs to
grasp new opportunities.
She sees the GSCC as just one part of a “Rubik’s Cube” along
with the new National Care Standards Commission and the Social Care
Institute for Excellence. “The interaction, the communication, and
the relationships are going to be crucial.”
Public confidence in the profession needs to be built up but
also the profession’s confidence in what Berry describes as “this
architecture of organisations”.
“It’s vital that the public feel that if they complain, they
will be dealt with fairly. It is also right and proper that those
in the profession do not have a sense that it’s a kangaroo
To make sure of this, she plans to nail down what the council
will deal with and what should be passed elsewhere. She
differentiates between complaints procedures, disciplinary
procedures (matters between employers and employees) and grievance
procedures (disputes between staff). The council will deal with
complaints but only complaints about practice, not those about
access, levels or performance of services – its remit is
The crucial distinction is whether a complaint is about
circumstances outside the control of the social care worker, such
as a lack of training, or about intentional bad practice. “It’s the
difference between employment rights and regulation. They are two
different things. It is about recognising that there are two
relationships – one with your employer and one with your
But although Berry stresses that the profession need not fear
double jeopardy, the council will have the power to deregister a
social care worker and end their career.
Some social care leaders have warned that this power, combined
with the additional requirement for staff to re-register on an
ongoing basis, could exacerbate the recruitment crisis.
Berry is nonplussed. “It’s a commitment to lifelong learning, to
updating skills. This is all about proving this is a profession we
can be proud of. Most people in social work and social care are
committed to updating their skills and want to know they are
delivering the best service they can. It’s about being able to say
with pride: ‘I’m a skilled professional’.”
She believes the profession is in the process of devising a new
way of regulation. “How do we make sure that there’s this balance
between the two – the profession and the users or potential users?
It’s not going to be straightforward.”
The fact that 51 per cent of the council’s members will be
social care users is “incredibly important and quite novel”. “The
whole idea of user empowerment has been so much a development of
social work that not to include that level of users would be a
betrayal of social work and social care.”
The council will be “a strong voice for good practice” but not
the only one. Berry envisages it working in partnership (with the
NCSC and Scie) to present a unified front.
Berry could well be the front guy appearing on
Newsnight to explain the profession’s position after a
child in care has died. Calm and controlled, she would not be
caught out behaving defensively when tackled by Jeremy Paxman. Her
performance is polished, her approach thoughtful and
Berry’s standards for success in her new job are ambitious. “I
would like there to be some tangible improvement in the confidence
that the public has in social work and social care. I would like to
see social work and social care as important in the next election
as health and education have been in this one. I would like people
to know there’s proper training and there are standards. That
people who work in the profession are to be respected, that they
work to high standards and that if the public has concerns, there’s
somewhere they can go.”
She has set herself as difficult a challenge as that outlined by
the government. The question is whether, as the new Labour
government is demanding of public services, she can deliver,