Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, talks to Community Care about the association’s stance over the national college of social work. He reveals the college’s creation could leave members facing a decision over BASW’s future.
Q: There has been some confusion about whether BASW was proposing to establish a UK college separate to that being developed under the reform programme for England. Can you clear this up?
A: We want there to be a college of social work and we think it must be independent, led by social workers and potent enough to make a difference. That’s all we’ve been trying to achieve through all of this. Thousands of social workers responded very positively to our referendum, so we’re in a strong position.
Q: Could that have involved setting up an alternative college?
A: [In BASW’s referendum] members were asked to vote on whether they supported “the development of an independent college of social work across the UK”. That does not imply setting up something absolutely different.
We were very unpopular with lots of people because of having that referendum. People told us it was a waste of money. But having it was important – not just in terms of the college debate, but also in terms of the social work profession’s ability to stand up for itself.
Q: Was this criticism based on a misunderstanding of what BASW was hoping to achieve?
A: Yes, I think some people probably misunderstood what we were trying to achieve.
Q: The question of independence has been a key concern of yours. Have you had any new reassurances from the development group?
A: The college as it stands is not independent; it’s funded by £5m of government money. That’s not a happy position to be in. One of the failings of the Labour government was its excessive interference and attempts to centrally direct and micromanage bits of social policy. Some of that issue has probably gone away and there may be less need to assert the independence of the college.
Q: In its final report the Social Work Task Force said the college may wish at a later date to extend its remit to the rest of the UK. Why wasn’t that sufficient for BASW?
A: Because we want it now, and social workers want it now. One of our big problems was the idea that you could develop something in England and the other countries would follow on later – we knew that wouldn’t work.
Q: Does BASW have a future alongside a college?
A: That’s a decision for members, but we might be putting a big decision to them at the next annual general meeting [in 2011]. We won’t be doing that if we haven’t made substantial progress on the BASW model of the college, but there’s all to play for.