Government to amend social work bill in bid to quell ‘privatisation’ fears

Two government amendments will be tabled in a bid to stem growing concerns over how controversial 'exemption' clauses will be used

Picture: Fotolia/downunderphoto

The government will look to amend the Children and Social Work Bill in a bid to stem fears it will be used to privatise children’s services, Community Care can reveal.

The change will seek to “rule out” the possibility of councils using controversial ‘exemption’ powers included in the legislation to opt out from rules restricting profit-making in children’s services.

A second change will look to introduce a requirement for an expert panel to vet any application made by councils for exemptions from other legal duties so that the potential impact on children and families is assessed.

Both concessions are revealed in a letter sent by Isabelle Trowler, the chief social worker for children, in a bid to ease growing concerns over the exemption clauses ahead of the bill going to the House of Lords next week.

A group of Labour peers has tabled a rival amendment calling for the clauses to be scrapped.

The proposals allow the education secretary to grant councils exemptions for up to three years, with the possibility of a three year extension, in order to “test different ways of working”.

Supporters of the measures say they will help councils pilot innovations and cut “red tape”. But opponents, including a campaign group of more than 30 social care organisations, are calling for the measures to be withdrawn, arguing that they threaten children’s rights and protections.

Concerns have also been raised that by potentially removing statutory requirements, the exemptions could both make services more attractive to third-party providers and allow councils to opt out of rules governing the use of private providers.

In the letter, seen by Community Care, Trowler said the clauses were not intended to “incentivise the privatisation of services”.

“However to put this point beyond doubt we are tabling a government amendment that will explicitly rule out any local authorities being able to use the power to revisit any restrictions on profit making in children’s social care,” she added.

Trowler said the government had listened to concerns that the process for assessing local authority exemptions in the bill was inadequate and changes would be made to tighten scrutiny of applications. New requirements will include:

  • The education secretary to consult an expert advisory panel on each application from local authorities for exemptions.
  • The advisory panel to contain Ofsted’s chief inspector, the Children’s Commissioner “as well as skilled representatives from the voluntary sector, social work practice and local government, appointed on the basis of their expertise”.
  • The advice of the panel to be published “so that the process is transparent and it can inform parliamentary scrutiny of applications to use the power.”

Trowler said the exemptions were a chance to trial changes to a system she feels is currently “overly-bureaucratic”. She said most people agreed with the 2011 Munro review’s assessment that social workers were not being given enough time to do direct work with families.

“If we don’t support this power we can no longer complain that the system is too bureaucratic and that we were hamstrung by legislation,” she said.

The government’s amendments, along with the Labour peers’ call for the withdrawal of the ‘exemption’ clauses, will be considered by the House of Lords next week.

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5 Responses to Government to amend social work bill in bid to quell ‘privatisation’ fears

  1. LongtimeSW October 14, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    Nothing but full withdrawal of these powers of opt out will do – this government cannot be trusted – the suspicion will be that the ‘skilled representatives’ appointments to any advisory panel will be selected from those who dance to this government’s tune.

    If the proposals go ahead as I suspect they will, (whatever is being said by Isabelle Trowler), then it should be mandatory that representatives are nominated by organisations themselves, including BASW and Union’s, alongside individuals being able to put themselves forward – after all, the impact of these changes will likely be changes to working conditions and TUPE etc – we should continue to Stand Up For Social Work.

    • Candies Kotchapaw October 16, 2016 at 12:13 am #

      I make this argument about the need for social workers to be directly involved in the public policy development process. My research paper is called ” The Politics of Social Work: Do Racialized Social Workers belong in thr Practice Space of Public Policy Development?” Social Workers have the expertise through direct experience to highlight how legislated policies directly impact the clients we serve!

      Candies Kotchapaw, Toronto, Canada.

  2. paul smart October 15, 2016 at 12:02 am #

    Who was the letter sent to?

  3. Carolyne Willow October 16, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

    These amendments do not diminish the threat of children and care leavers losing legal entitlements to services, support and safeguards.

    The amendment to curb profit-making is positive but questions remain about whether the removal of legal obligations fits within a wider outsourcing agenda. The LaingBuisson study, commissioned by the Department for Education following a recommendation from Le Grand, Wood and Trowler in 2014, could be helpful. Successive FOI requests have been refused and a recent Parliamentary Question elicited only a vague “the Department intends to publish the report in due course” answer. Why the secrecy?

    The amendment on an expert panel is not significant. The Bill formerly had provision for Ofsted’s Chief Inspector and the Children’s Commissioner” and “any other person” to be consulted by the Secretary of State. Now the Chief Inspector and the Children’s Commissioner are to sit on a panel with “one or more persons appointed by the Secretary of State”. The Government will have to deal with only one report, rather that two (or more) potentially conflicting reports.

    Where is the evidence that professionals feel “hamstrung by legislation”?

    Upholding the rights of children and care leavers, enshrined in domestic and international law, is a fine tradition of social work. Rejecting the rule of law is the antithesis of professional practice.

    Please show your support for the rights of children and care leavers by signing this 38 Degrees petition:

  4. Fred October 17, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

    Government determination to end state services ( indeed state anything) is clear. The “not for profit” concession is just a temporary measure; the long term intention is certain.
    Children’s services just like those for adults are destined for privatisation and cuts.
    You definitely CAN trust the government on the welfare state. They are determined to dismantle it. The plan is going well too.
    They first blame users of the welfare state using their mouthpieces – the Daily Mail etc to rebrand the sick disabled, poor, unemployed and foodbank users as “scroungers”, asylum seekers or junkies –
    Then they set about cutting the resources needed to support these people, making it certain the service providers in the state sector fail.
    Then they inspect the services and find that when they fail the only thing to do s take them away from state control.
    A neat plan. Quite evil, immoral and cruel. But quite effective in terms of the attack on the welfare state and the damage to vulnerable people.