BASW slams Lamb’s ‘partisan’ call for councils to back College

Minister's support for employers to take out corporate membership of College attacked by British Association of Social Workers.

The row comes weeks after the breakdown in College-BASW merger talks

The British Association of Social Workers has accused care services minister Norman Lamb of adopting a “partisan stance” in encouraging councils to take out corporate membership of The College of Social Work.

In his speech to last week’s National Children and Adult Services Conference, Lamb welcomed family court body Cafcass’s decision to take out corporate membership of the College, under which employers can sign up all their social workers at a discounted rate, but staff are given the option of joining.

He also endorsed the work of Jo Cleary, joint chair of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services workforce network, in visiting local authorities to encourage more social workers to sign up to the College.

Directors promote College membership

In addition, in her capacity as board member of the College, Cleary has written to fellow adult services directors last month to promote the business case for corporate membership on the grounds that it would improve staff motivation and quality. Fellow board member – and Essex Council children’s services director – Dave Hill has sent a similar letter to children’s directors.

Lamb told last week’s conference, mainly attended by local authority decision-makers: “I would like as many of you as possible to follow her [Cleary’s] lead and to whip up as much interest as possible. Because the more social workers get involved, the stronger the College will be.”

BASW ‘disappointed’

However, BASW acting chief executive Bridget Robb said: “We are disappointed that a newly appointed minister has taken such a partisan stance, despite requests for meetings to discuss the role played by ourselves and other organisations during this crucial time of social work and social care reform.”

The College had 2,974 members at 1 November, up from 2,456 on 3 October. It would not break down this figure into individual and corporate-arranged memberships, so it is difficult to tell how successful the corporate offer has been so far in encouraging individual social workers to join the college.

Corporate sign-ups

However, five employers have now purchased membership on behalf of their social workers: Cafcass, Essex Council’s children’s and adults’ services (where Hill is children’s director), Cornwall Council’s children’s department, Lambeth Council’s children’s and adults’ services (where Cleary is adults’ director), and Halton Council’s children’s and adults’ services.

Corporate membership fees for employed social workers range from £20 to £40 per year, as against £60 for an individual who arranges their own membership.

Community Care estimated last month that the College needed to attract about 1,600 new members per month for six months to hit its target of 12,000 by April 2013

Breakdown in merger talks

After merger talks between the College and BASW broke down in September, BASW accused the College of pursuing a “quasi-regulatory role” rather than setting itself up as a membership organisation for social workers.

Commenting on Lamb’s remarks last week, a Department of Health spokesperson said: “For the College to succeed it will need a high volume of members. We support the College’s efforts to attract membership, thereby creating a strong organisation and a much-needed point of reference for the social work profession.”

College of Social Work co-chair Maurice Bates said the organisation represented “a unique opportunity for the profession to lead its own development and have a genuine influence”. “We are delighted that Norman Lamb supports an important part of our strategy for attracting new members so that we can pursue this vital goal,” he added.

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