Government makes U-turn on plan to control new social work regulator

Children’s minister reveals new body will now be “independent” as plans to move regulation into Department for Education are abandoned

Department for Education
Department for Education

Ministers have rolled back on proposals for the new social work regulator to be government-controlled after the plans met fierce opposition.

Children’s minister Edward Timpson said an “independent” body will be set up to take over regulation of social workers from the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), in a U-turn on the government’s previous intention for the new regulator to be an executive agency of the Department for Education.

Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon, Timpson said: “I am working in partnership with my colleagues in the Department of Health to establish a new bespoke, independent regulator for social work that will set higher standards for social work, both for what is expected of professionals in order to practice and also what is expected from universities and others providing initial social work education.”

The move marks a major concession from the government on one of the most controversial areas of its Children and Social Work Bill.

Ministers previously said they had rejected the option of setting up an independent social work regulator after concluding it was better to “bring regulation closer to government”, due to the need to reform the profession and a desire to “effect change quickly”. The plan was also backed by the chief social workers for adults and children.

However fierce criticism from several sector bodies has prompted a rethink, with the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), the Association of Directors of Children’s Services and the Local Government Association among those who insisted that any new regulator must have independence from government.

Under the current system, the HCPC is operationally and financially independent of government. The HCPC is also accountable to parliament rather than the government of the day.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It has always been our intention that Ministers would not be involved in the day to day running of the regulator.

“Having listened to the sector and comments made in the House of Lords, we have been considering what further steps we could take to make sure this is the case. We will continue to work closely with the profession and across government as the specialist regulator is developed.”

The shift in stance raises questions over what form the new “independent” regulator will take.

Former education secretary Nicky Morgan, who unveiled the plans for the new social work body during her time in office, said at the time that “we don’t need more quangos”. This was a reference to non-departmental public bodies, the type of organisation set up for social work’s last dedicated regulator in England, the General Social Care Council (GSCC).

The GSCC was abolished in 2012 as part of the then government’s so-called “bonfire of the quangos”. At the time ministers said moving social work regulation to the HPC (which then became the HCPC), a multi-professions regulator, would be the best option “in the long-term for the public, social workers and their employers by delivering independent and sustainable regulation.”


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11 Responses to Government makes U-turn on plan to control new social work regulator

  1. K8 October 21, 2016 at 6:30 am #

    I really don’t see what is wrong with the HCPC. At the time we were moved over from the GSCC I was sceptical about being regulated by them because they were not purely social work regulators but to be honest they seem to be pretty good.

    They are well organised, you can find information easily on their site and they seem to be ensuring that social workers who are not practicing as they should are dealt with appropriately.

    Why on earth do they want to waste money on creating yet another regulatory body for us when the money could be used somewhere else to greater effect???

    • LongtimeSW October 21, 2016 at 10:59 am #

      Simple really – this government are intent on bullying our profession into submission because they are determined to softening up the public sector for privatisation – it is lazy politics and we are convenient scapegoats that allow them to divert attention away from their disgraceful lack of empathy towards the impact of so called ‘austerity’ cuts – though funnily enough Phillip Green is allowed to walk away from BHS having trousered money from the pension fund – (Hint – look at who HIS friends are)

      Folks – let’s keep standing up for ourselves and social work as a profession – there is much much more right with it than wrong with it.

      • Keephcpc October 26, 2016 at 7:43 am #

        I must agree with the ebo ve. Just look at the chaos and distrust they have caused for us and short changed taxpayers. Look at the mess they have caused us with HMRC too, what a disgrace..they are the last people who should dictate who runs,leads and manages anything. The twist and turns to suit political and fiscal problems are legendary.

    • MW October 21, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

      Couldn’t agree more..

      Just farcical really..

      But guess it needs to be seen in the backdrop of the Children’s Bill ?

  2. Alex October 21, 2016 at 10:39 am #

    HCPC is not fit for purpose. Social work needs a dedicated regulator.

  3. Jim Greer October 21, 2016 at 11:06 am #

    Social work registrants now make up about a third of the HCPC membership and about half of all fitness to practise referrals(due to the type of work social workers are engaged with). The HCPC has built its expertise and understand of social work up over the last few years. It is going to be hugely expensive to create a new regulator and I can’t see how this is a priority in cash strapped times.
    The College of Social Work unfortunately failed to win the support of the profession.The cheapest and most sensible option moving forward would be for the HCPC to remain in charge of public protection and for BASW to take over the enhancement role that the College had. Then we will have two organisations who both have considerable experience in their work and the confidence of the profession.

  4. Shiny Harley October 21, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    Perhaps they could also aim to set higher standards for supporting Social Workers, freeing them from crippling bureaucracy, and giving them effective leadership?

  5. Andrew October 21, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    So where does this leave Isobelle Trowler who told us all what a good idea this was?

  6. JW October 21, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

    Well done BASW

  7. Jonathan Ritchie October 21, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    Try making a complaint as a service user about a corrupt social worker and you will discover what is wrong with the HCPC.

  8. Tom J October 25, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    But I thought that Chief Social Worker for Children Ms Isabelle Trowler said that a government controlled regulator was essential?

    Essential definition: absolutely necessary; extremely important

    Question for Ms Trowler; is it or is it not essential?