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BASW Chair's speech to 2016 AGM

I’ve prepared only a short speech, which is appropriate for me really, given that in my work outside BASW my focus is solution-focused practice, or brief therapy as it is sometimes known, which very much operates on the principle that less is more. I thought it would be sensible to prepare something brief as - well, I’ve already spoken this morning, and I was fairly confident that the AGM would take all the time allotted to it and possibly then some - and there’s a drinks reception waiting for us immediately afterwards! When there will be time for more speeches though of a slightly different sort.

I thought the AGM would take all this time because there was so much packed in to it, and as I was thinking about this, it struck me that this reflects something really positive happening with BASW. There is just so much going on. We are a big organisation, in a number of ways, not least the fact (the fantastic achievement) that we have recently gone over the 20,000 members mark, for the first time ever, and we are gaining still more numbers daily. And in this case, size really does matter. The more members BASW has, the more social workers there are behind everything we say… every comment, every response to a consultation, every media interview, every article… and so what we say carries more weight and is harder to ignore.

We are big in other ways too - to paraphrase Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes! (though he added that this means he contradicts himself, and of course BASW would never do that!). I will touch here on just a small part of this multifarious activity… international work, campaigning, alliances with service user groups, a growing unity with other social work organisations. We contribute internationally in ways that I am only beginning to learn about. {BASW has a very strong voice internationally, not least as the current President of IFSW is BASW member and former member of staff, Ruth Stark, and I am delighted that Ruth is here today, and helping to connect us to the world of international social work.} Involving myself in our international work and helping to connect this to what happens here in the UK is something I am very keen to focus on during my second term.

An example of what can happen with such connections is the developing work around austerity - the campaign developing here in part inspired by the Orange Tide in Spain led by Ana Lima Fernandez, president of Consejo General del Trabajo Social (General Council on Social Work), we had a plenary panel at the 2015 IFSW conference in Edinburgh and there was a symposium in Athens in January 2016 as well as the IFSW statement and lots of ideas about what national associations can do - which can feed in to our activity - into our initial planning meeting tomorrow - and then what we do can in turn be fed back to our colleagues elsewhere - watch out for a news item on the campaign here on the IFSW website - leading to a rich and recursive process of mutual influence.

The austerity campaign also illustrates our growing alliances with service user groups - four of which will be represented at the meeting tomorrow - which could also be seen in the contributions this morning from Sarah, Saeed and Becki. This is just a beginning though, of a concerted attempt to build our alliances with service user groups, and this will be another focus for my second term.  Here I want to extend my appreciation to our members - many of whom will be here now - who when consulted on our draft vision at last year’s AGM made clear that working with service users and carers did not figure in it sufficiently - and we were able to put this right in the final version of the vision that was launched last June. This shows the importance of member consultation and I want us to do more of this - as one means of involving our members, and increasing member engagement and participation.

BASW members and service users both played an important part in the social work summit that took place in January. This was an important event that brought together many social work organisations and this growing unity promises to continue. We have talked about a Standing Conference being a ‘coming together’ of diverse organisations, from which various actions can ensue, and that not every organisation has to be involved in or agree with everything. I suggest it is the same with BASW. We are a broad church, with a comprehensive and multi-faceted vision, and we should be the natural home for all social workers, wherever they work and in whatever setting - statutory, voluntary and private sectors - and from whichever route they entered the profession. It is also important to note that our vision is to be the voice of social work and not just of social workers. As THE Association embodying the profession of social work, it is incumbent on us to define, develop, promote and set standards for social work, as well as to inform, lobby, influence, campaign on behalf of social work and social workers and the people we serve.

Governments will come and go - social work will persist - at least we need to ensure it does - and we have to continue to define and redefine it. The transfer of some TCSW functions into BASW has given us an opportunity and we need to grab it. The value of the PCF has been well-recognised and we need to build on this. It is a framework for professional development, and now within BASW I believe we need to develop what we are offering in this respect, not only in setting social work standards, but in providing enhanced professional development activities, for social workers at all career stages.

I want to finish by saying that I have been honoured to serve BASW as chair over the past two years, and I find it an honour to be able to continue for a second term, and I pledge I will do the best job I can. There is much to do, and there are many of us to do it - so join in, become active, serve on a committee, join the Social Workers and Service Users Against Austerity campaign, develop standards for your specialist area of practice, help to develop a vision for social work education, organise events with a local branch, attend events, talk to colleagues at work, contribute to PSW and speak out and speak up for social workers.