BASW leader offers clear message on the choice facing members
In an Easter message to members BASW chief executive Hilton Dawson has called for a resounding ‘yes’ vote in the UK College of Social Work referendum which closes on April 21.
“My message to members is that it’s incredibly important that they take the opportunity to vote ‘yes’ as this will enormously strengthen us in ensuring that social workers get the independent, accountable college they want,” Mr Dawson said.
He endorsed BASW chair Fran Fuller’s conciliatory open letter this week to Social Work Reform Board (SWRB ) head Moira Gibb, which stated that it was ‘entirely possible’ BASW would return to discussions taking place within the College Development Group – an offshoot of the SWRB chaired by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) – but only if certain conditions were met. The letter said that the current plans were ‘fatally flawed’.
“I’m sure that there is a consensual way forward on the development of the college, but we’re absolutely determined to stick to our principles of an independent college that is accountable to social workers and UK-wide,” Mr Dawson said.
“So far the government and the SWRB’s College Development Group have assumed that BASW can somehow be incorporated in their view of what the college should be. But the college they are trying to develop simply won’t work; it’s not strong enough to attract the social work members it will need to sustain it.”
The SCIE-backed National College would have to be led by social workers if it was to have the profession’s wholehearted support, he said, and there was currently no sign that this would be so. Democratic accountability in the College Development Group was urgently needed, and unless social workers in the devolved countries were involved immediately they would never be interested in joining a body so closely identified with England.
“We’ll be meeting the College Development Group on April 29, when the referendum result will be known, and the first task will be to find a way for social workers in BASW, the trade unions and other membership organisations to have their say,” Mr Dawson said. “We need to be listened to because we have got really important things to say which are make or break for a college. If they won’t listen to us, we’ll go ahead and do it ourselves.”
Ms Fuller’s open letter urged the College Development Group to collaborate with BASW on a joint work programme for a UK-wide College of Social Work. It called on the Group to nominate social workers for election to the BASW Council at its AGM on 20 May, which would be a democratically elected, social worker-led body helping take forward plans for the UK-wide college.
Mr Dawson said: “We could elect social workers at our AGM to help set the direction of the college rather than being hidebound by the established bodies currently represented on the development group, some of which aren’t social work organisations and some of which have a vested interest in the outcome. In one bound we’d give the college the credibility it lacks at the moment.
“I am hopeful that we will agree on a single college for the UK because I trust that rationality and good sense will eventually prevail, but it does require the College Development Group to be more open to the ideas we’re expounding than they have been in the past year.”
He said BASW wanted a college that would have a potent influence on career structures, how social workers are employed and recruited, and standards of initial training and continuing professional development. If the Conservatives won the General Election, likely to be on May 6, Mr Dawson said they were unlikely to be sympathetic to Labour’s plans for a National College. By contrast the shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton has offered an initial welcome to BASW’s model.
“By offering an independent college we are election-proofing the whole idea,” Mr Dawson added. “If we got an outcome that met our principles, BASW could simply fold itself into the new college. No other organisation has been as far-sighted and brave as to consider that sort of prospect.
“I’m optimistic about getting a ‘yes’ vote because this is the future of social work we’re talking about. We know that social workers are solidly committed to our aims for the college as these are the values of social work itself. The more that our members back BASW’s approach in the referendum, the stronger our case will be.”