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AGM hears that BASW's growing membership shows its message is reaching social workers

BASW’s growing membership shows its message is reaching social workers and the profession is “standing together in difficult times”, said the Association’s Chief Executive Bridget Robb.

Addressing delegates at BASW’s Annual General Meeting in Derby on 27 June, Ms Robb highlighted a rise in membership from 13,566 in Oct 2011 to 14,075 in September 2012.

And she added: “As of today our membership is 14,632, in other words the growth is carrying on, thanks to all the work you do in recruiting new members.”

Ms Robb pointed to other achievements during the year, including the growing strength of the Social Workers Union. She said: “SWU continued to grow during the year to 4,877 attracting members who had not formerly being members of a trade union. Its popularity demonstrates the importance of a specialist trade union service. As of today membership stands at 6,506 members.”

The work of the BASW Cymru, the Scottish Association of Social Work and the Northern Ireland Association of Social Workers was praised, particularly with regard to their influence they have gained among decision-makers.

Ms Robb also paid tribute to the work of the Policy, Ethics and Human Rights Committee and the International Committee. She drew attention to growing traffic to BASW’s website – which is on course to having 300,000 unique visitors a year – and the launch of an online library, Social Work Knowledge, for social workers.

Reflecting on the financial year 2011/12, Ms Robb said much of that year’s focus had been on the failed merger talks with The College of Social Work. “Unfortunately the College ceased negotiations in September 2012 and they remain today as a competitor to us.”

A motion was passed during the AGM expressing regret at the College’s decision to terminate discussions, dismay at its lack of democratic processes and calling upon the Westminster Government to no longer use taxpayer’s money to subsidise it.

Board member Terry Bamford criticised the College’s lack of independence and “sweatheart deals” with government departments that have so far seen it receive more than £6 million in public funds.

“The closeness of the relationship between Government and The College is dangerous for the College. We have seen from the recent example of the Care Quality Commission that when you get too close to the government you are scared of delivering unpalatable messages."

“We want a College that is democratic, open and transparent. Social work faces existential threats from further cuts and things like Frontline and an ever-growing interest in private sector solutions. It can’t afford disunity.”

Board member Lesley McDowell said BASW Council had been “shocked” by the College’s withdrawal from the negotiating table. “We did not want it and did not seek it. If there was an opportunity for sincere negotiations we would be there.”

David Jones, appointed by BASW as an independent mediator to facilitate the negotiations, said it was one of his “greatest professional regrets” that a deal had not been reached. “We encouraged The College to take a two-day residential meeting to get to understand one another. The college of social work said they were too busy. BASW requested to have a meeting of the boards. It had become far too personal and the boards needed to meet. It was a tragedy that didn’t happen.”

A second motion passed called on BASW to provide a draft consultation for a vision for the future of the association. Julian Levitt, Chair of BASW’s Black Country branch who tabled the motion, said: “With all these powerful people in social work around, BASW needs to define itself. We need to be getting on with being BASW and establish what that means and are keen to have that debate.”

Black Country member Hugh Robertson added: “I am very proud of being a BASW member but I am not sure of the clarity or vision of the organisation.”

Ms Robb welcomed the motion and said: “There will be changes over the next year. We are in a dynamic, changing environment, not only with regards of the College but also spending cuts. The organisation cannot stand still. It has to change and we need your ideas on how to do that. We will be bringing ideas to the next AGM and business plans to help you understand that.”

Full coverage of the BASW Annual Conference and AGM, as well as the SWU AGM, will be published in the July/August issue of Professional Social Work magazine later this month