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Speech by Paul Burstow MP, Minister of State for Care Services, 20 October 2010: Skills for Care Social Workers Conference

  • Last modified date:
    20 December 2010

Skills for Care: Social Work – Building the Workforce Together Conference

It’s now nearly a year since the Social Work Taskforce first reported with its 15 recommendations.

Certainly plenty has changed.

Change in the political landscape – with a Coalition Government, now six months old.

In the professional landscape – with the first signs of real change in policy and practice through the social work reform board.

And change, of course, in the financial landscape I couldn’t make a speech without mentioning the Spending Review, of which I want to say more in a moment.

Dramatic times, and hugely difficult times for everyone working in public services, I recognise.

But what hasn’t changed in all of this, is the very thing that brings all of us here today.

The commitment to do the very best for the children, families and communities we service.

And the shared view that we need consistent and coherent programme of reform to achieve this.

This is a reforming Government.

Yesterday’s Spending Review was a reforming settlement.

It is true to the values we stand for set out in our coalition agreement .

A desire to share the burden of deficit reduction fairly, and to support and protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

A belief that we need to recast the relationship between the individual and the State so that more power goes to the individual.
And a commitment to put more trust and more responsibility in the hands of the frontline professionals, like social workers, who make all the difference to people’s lives.

Over the last decade or so, I know that social workers have felt they’ve been working with one hand tied behind their backs.

The job has become increasingly about managing processes and paperwork.

And yet the true role and the true potential, of social work is much, much more than that.

Much more than the salvage and rescue of social casualties.

Much more than pen pushing and form filling.

It’s about helping to unlock the potential of individuals and communities, to promote self care and self determination.

To achieve this, we have to free up the professional and rediscover social work’s original purpose.

Understanding individuals. Seeing the context of people’s needs. Working with more autonomy and resourcefulness to create the right outcomes for them.

The review that Professor Eileen Munro is leading into children’s service already shows we can start to streamline social work and hand power back to the frontline.

I’m keen we learn the lessons from this for adult services too – and this will be something you’ll hear a lot more about in the weeks and months ahead.

Spending Review and Social Work

Yesterday’s Spending Review makes this all the more important, and I want to say a little bit about what I believe it represents.

Nobody could stand here and deny there were tough decisions in the Spending Review that the Chancellor outlined yesterday - decisions that understandably cause anxiety and uncertainty for many.

But every line in the Chancellor’s statement was a necessary and proportionate response to the deficit legacy we inherited.

Tough choices that will bring sanity to our public finances, and stability to our economy as a result.

But, of course, it has to done in the right way.

We needed a fair settlement, a reforming settlement, a settlement that promotes growth in our economy and cohesion in our communities.

That’s exactly what the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury delivered.

The additional £2 billion injected into social care, in particular, presents a big opportunity and a big obligation for all of us in this room.

It means that, with serious increases in productivity, councils can meet the extra demands we’ll face in the years ahead.

And it provides a strong bridge to the new funding system for adult social care that Andrew Dilnott is designing for us at the moment.

This means no council needs to choose to restrict access to care – or, worse still, make slash and burn cuts.

But it can’t signal, absolutely mustn’t signal, a return to ‘business as usual’.

And my challenge to local government colleagues is this.

The Government has made the tough choices to provide resources for social care.

You now have the space, the opportunity – and dare, I say, the duty – to accelerate the pace of change.

To effect real changes in how we think about our role and our relationships with service users and other services.

Real improvements in how we integrate health and social care.

A renewed focus on outcomes, not processes to ensure we make every penny count for the people we support.

In a society where more disabled and old people will need care and support in the years ahead, there’s a powerful logic to this investment, and a compelling logic in half of the new money going through the NHS.

It’s the logic of prevention … of making sure the health isn’t just a rescue service, like the AA – on hand to pick us up when we break down.

And it’s the logic of integration … that health and social care working as one will always achieve more for people than if they remain two systems working apart.

And one thing is abundantly clear to me. Social workers are a vital thread helping us tie these two worlds together.

How well we free you to deliver for your service users defines how effectively we can support people with the resources we have.

Retrench or Reform

So I have a simple message. This cannot be a return to ‘business as usual’ as a result of the funding settlement for social care.

Just as the Coalition has made tough decisions, so councils will face tough decisions in other public services.

All of us have a responsibility to stretch every sinew to increase productivity and make sure every pound spent achieves real results for the communities we serve.

And it means council leaders across both children and adult services have a simple choice: retrench or reform.

If they retrench, and stick to old delivery models then they will prove the doom-merchants right…as there are plenty of them…and we will see falling standards as budget pressures bite.

Quality won’t improve; choice will narrow; the costs of unplanned care will rise.

If, however, they reform and embrace new ways of providing care and support for the most vulnerable, then we can kickstart, I believe, a virtuous circle of continuous improvement in which the focus shifts decisively to one that is about preventing and postponing dependency and ill-health.

The Government’s contribution

Make no mistake: changing social work is a key part of this.

It would be easy and understandable to take our eyes off the ball, given everything else that’s happening in public services.

But that would be a mistake – for professionals, for employers, for politicians and for the individuals and communities we support.

That’s why we’re already investing in new ways of doing things. £23 million for the Local Social Work Improvement Fund, which is helping councils pilot new approaches to children’s services. Stripping back the bureaucracy. Giving social workers back the autonomy and trust to do the right thing for children.

We’re supporting education and training.

£4 million for the Newly Qualified Social Work programme and nearly £100 million combined for bursaries and social work student placements.

Along with the Children’s Workforce Council, helping to attract and retain the highest calibre professionals into social work.

And finally we’re investing in leadership, through the College of Social Work – creating the powerful champion for the profession that we’ve need for so long.

Consensus and co-operation

But success isn’t just a matter of pounds going in, it’s measured by outcomes.

And what’s really encouraging is the mood of co-operation across and beyond the profession – a shared appetite to take this agenda forward and to make it your own.

Key decision makers in education and training – many of you here today – stepping up to the plate and pledging your support.

Likewise employers. Many organisations are teaming up to make sure the right placements are available to students, and that the proposed standard for employers’ is successfully implemented.

The General Social Care Council

Of course, good regulation plays a part in shaping good practice.

And I wanted to say something, finally, about the decision to switch responsibility for social work regulation from the General Social Care Council to the Health Professions Council.

Our view is simple. We want fair, consistent and proportionate regulation across all aspects of health and social care.

The best regulators are fully independent of Government, unfettered by any ties to Whitehall or Westminster.

The fact is GSCC is currently the only professional regulator directly answerable to the Secretary of State for Health.

It is unique in depending on funding from the taxpayer.

Last year, for instance, it got just over £15 million from the Department of Health to support its operations, and raised just £2.5m in registration fees.

And this year costs to the Department are forecast to rise to around £20 million.

If the GSCC were to achieve full independence, it would have to close the funding gap by charging significantly higher registration fees to individual social workers.

And my view was this would have placed a disproportionate burden on social workers.

That’s why we plan to transfer responsibility to the Health Professions Council.

It can draw on the economies of scale that come from regulating across health and social care.

It will, of course, need to gain a full understanding of the social work profession, so it can protect the public effectively.

And yes absolutely, it will need a new name to reflect its broader role.

But I am confident the HPC will be an effective regulator, and I know discussions are taking place, constructive and helpful, between the two organisations to ensure an orderly transition and I pay tribute to GSCC who are doing that.


So one year on from the Taskforce. An encouraging start. Real progress, real leadership, a real sense of partnership across the profession.

And six months into the Coalition, a clear message from me: continue where it works, change where it doesn’t.

The Spending Review is a key moment.

It is an adrenaline shot for the reform and improvement of all public services.

And it demands we all raise our sights, that we are ambitious about the difference reform can make.

Social work does have a key part to play in the future we want to build.

A more personalised future.

A more empowered future.

And a future where the judgements of professionals are properly valued, and the potential of service users is truly unlocked.

Over the next twelve months, let’s capitalise on this positive start and help the profession move forward as one to change lives for the better.

Even in this tough and difficult financial climate, there is still plenty to play for – and with your support, I know we can continue achieving great things for the individuals, families and communities we serve.

Thank you for everything you’re doing and I hope you enjoy the rest of this conference.

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