The area is complex but has the potential to significantly affect social workers in their day-to-day work both as professionals and as employees. The document Untested Models: The Role of Private and Independent Providers in Social Work provides a background. BASW is consulting on key principles for testing the use and adoption of ‘untested models’ and you can read the principles and make your view known by taking our short survey (members only).

Untested models - Consultation

The British Association of Social Work (BASW) is pleased to announce a member consultation on its future policy on the role of private companies, trusts, charities, mutuals; and Public, Voluntary and Independent organisations (PVIs) in providing social work services. In this consultation, private companies and trusts are referred to as ‘untested models’ of service delivery because of absence of evidence about whether they are more effective than local authority provision.

What is an ‘untested model’ of service delivery?

An untested model of service delivery is when statutory services are delivered by organisations other than local authorities. This can include a local authority establishing an independent or arms-length company to provide services, contracting out its services to a private company; and/or local authorities merging their services, or jointly commissioning their services with the NHS. More contentiously, in England, if a local authority ‘fails’ an Ofsted inspection, the Secretary of State has power to force it to deliver its statutory duties through a trust or another model. Untested models may also result in social workers being employed by other organisations besides local authorities.

What is the legal background to untested models?

There are an increasing number of untested models in social work as a result of UK government policy dating back to Thatcher’s reforms of social services provision. More recently, The Open Public Services White Paper (HM Government 2011) – a UK wide policy, which recognised the differences in policies resulting from devolution – stated that there should be multiple providers of services (local authorities, PVIs, and charities); it encouraged further ‘deregulation’ of public services and reaffirmed that all services should be subject to Compulsory Competitive Tendering. The White Paper also expanded the power of ‘elected representatives’ to commission more (and different) service providers, including private companies and charities. In addition to the White Paper, devolved parliaments have also enacted legislation, which may lead to local authorities solely or jointly creating untested models of service delivery.

Why is BASW holding a consultation?

At the BASW Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2017, a motion was passed that BASW should investigate the reasons for the expanding number of untested models and their impact on social work practice. While the number of untested models is increasing, there are concerns that there is little knowledge on how they affect social work practice. It is for this reason that they are described as ‘untested’ in this consultation. Furthermore, there appears to be lack of democratic oversight of how they are created by local authorities. In England, as these models can be enforced on local authorities by the Secretary of State, there are also concerns that the inspection regime for services is being politicised to force some local authorities to become trusts. However, proponents of untested models argue that they can lead to reduced cost for services, increased quality, and more choice for service users.

The AGM motion in 2017 led to BASW developing its own policy, as the basis for campaigning. Within BASW, this work is being overseen by the Politics, Ethics, and Human Rights (PEHR) Committee. In addition to the work of PEHR, there was webinar on 18 July 2018 during which the issues were debated. Further, led by BASW, untested models was debated at the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Work by Dr Godfred Boahen (BASW Policy and Research Officer), Yvette Stanley (National Director, Social Care, Ofsted) and Professor June Thorburn (University of East Anglia).