Scottish Government proposes National Social Work Agency

Holyrood consults on plans for a national pay and grading structure and increased requirements for social work employers

Scottish Parliament building
Scottish Parliament building (photo: Heartland Arts/Adobe Stock)

The Scottish Government is consulting on plans to introduce an organisation to oversee the country’s social work sector including a national pay and grading framework.

Holyrood has proposed the National Social Work Agency (NSWA) as part of wider plans for a National Care Service (NCS) in Scotland, a consultation on which opened last week, including proposals to centralise children’s social work services.

The devolved administration said the NSWA would oversee social work qualifications, workforce planning, improvement, training, professional development and pay and grading within a national framework.

And the NSWA would invest in and raise the profile of social workers throughout the NCS and partner organisations to ensure parity with other professions.

The Scottish Government proposed a centre of excellence for applied research for social work to support improvement activity alongside the NSWA.

The Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) said the proposed NSWA could bring “significant opportunities” for the profession including consistency of continuous professional development and improvement based on social work research.

SASW national director Alison Bavidge said: “The proposal for a national framework for pay and grading offers a Scotland-wide consistent approach to additional specialist qualifications and enhanced senior practice roles that carry additional responsibilities.”

Leadership organisation Social Work Scotland said a discussion about national pay and grading structures was “overdue” but refrained from supporting Holyrood’s proposed framework.

“National pay and conditions may not be the right solution for social work, but we are at last having the discussion, and will need to consider all options,” the organisation said in a statement.

Greater regulation over social work employers

Holyrood proposed giving the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), which regulates the sector’s workforce in the country, greater powers over social work employers.

The Scottish Government suggested giving the SSSC the power to compel social work employers to implement any sanctions it has placed on employees following a fitness to practise investigation.

It recommended giving the SSSC more power to enforce social work employers’ requirement to adhere to its codes of practice.

And it proposed introducing a statutory obligation on employers to ensure staff attain the qualifications required for registration within the necessary timescale.

“The provision of these additional powers will ensure staff are supported by employers in meeting their regulatory requirements,” the consultation document says.

Bavidge welcomed the proposed expansion of SSSC’s current “one-sided powers” over individual social workers but not their employers.

“SASW is glad to see that the balance of focus on the individual worker might change so that where a fitness to practice hearing might require action from a social worker, their employer also has responsibility,” she said.

Social Work Scotland said the proposals “merit consideration” but that it would “engage with our members on them to understand the practicality and utility of the proposals” before taking a position.

The SSSC itself declined to comment on the specific proposals. “We are carefully considering the details and will respond to the consultation in due course,” a spokesperson said.

Centralisation of children’s social work

The Scottish Government’s consultation on a NCS fulfils one of the recommendations of the Independent Review of Adult Social Care, published earlier this year.

Holyrood’s consultation document states that the NCS will cover adult social care services, as recommended by the review, “at a minimum”, but it proposes extending the scope to children and young people, community justice, alcohol and drug services, and social work.

Adult social work in Scotland is currently organised through 31 regional Integration Joint Boards (IJBs) responsible for planning services for health and social care.

Only 10 of these are responsible for children and families social work, while 15 are responsible for justice social work. In most areas, local authorities retain responsibility for children’s services instead of IJBs.

The Scottish Government proposes renaming IJBs as Community Health and Social Care Boards, with all children’s services managed through them.

It suggests that these boards would be funded by and accountable to the National Care Service and Scottish Government ministers.

“Having children’s social work and social care within the NCS will provide the opportunity for services to become more cohesive – built around the child, family, or person who needs support – reducing complexity and ensuring improved transitions and support for those that need to access a range of services, including improved links with health,” it says.

“Location within the NCS would also permit us to have a system where access, assessment, funding, and accountability is in one body.”

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) said the proposals were “an attack on localism and on the rights of local people to make decisions democratically for their place”.

“It isn’t evidence-based and will take years to deliver – years when we should be making improvements which will benefit all users of social care services,” president councillor Alison Evison said in a statement.

“Councils know their communities and all the evidence suggests that local democratic decision making works. Councils have shown time and time again during the last 18 months of the pandemic that we can deliver for the communities we serve when we are trusted and resourced to do so.”

Nick Kempe, of Scottish pro-independence think-tank Common Weal, welcomed the Scottish Government’s proposal to include children’s, criminal justice and social work services in the NCS plans.

“This in turn, however, highlights one of the fundamental contradictions in the Scottish Government’s current thinking,” he said.

“Having committed to not-for-profit services for children in the Promise, their response to the Independent Care Review for Children, the consultation document is based on the assumption that the private sector should continue in the National Care Service.”

The Scottish Government will accept responses to its consultation until 18 October.

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