Points to Ponder: The National Social Work Agency Dilemma
During the development of the new National Care Service (NCS), it is important to stay focused on what we ultimately want to achieve for social workers and the social work profession in the new delivery model. Representing the views of our members which are often diverse, complex, and nuanced - is our priority. As the various government programme workstreams emerge, we are piecing together the national care service jigsaw. Some pieces slot easily into place, but others are more challenging.
A National Social Work Agency (NSWA) is proposed as part of the NCS to support social work in education and improving and scaling up good practice. It will also support workforce planning, training and development as well as terms and conditions - including pay. The dilemma for social workers is where the NSWA should sit in relation to the National Care Service. Should it sit within government structures or should it sit outside of them. It is a difficult piece of the jigsaw!
The Government’s proposal is to have it as a government department, a core part of the civil service structure. The staff in this model would be civil servants accountable to ministers. This is supported by some members, who see the potential of having a seat at the decision-making table in the heart of government. For this to be effective, the Chief Social Work Advisor role must sit at the same grade as the Chief Medical Officer and have responsibility for the National Social Work Agency. Perhaps there is scope for a new role of Director of Social Work and Social Care for the NCS that would replace the current Chief Social Work Advisor role in Government. This would carry responsibility for the NSWA but the postholder would also be the Chief Social Work Advisor. Status is crucial in this arrangement to ensure the sphere of influence and inclusion in resource allocation and strategic prioritisation.
Other members support having distance between the government that makes and implements policy and a profession that holds government to account for the impact of that policy on citizens - especially those that are marginalised and disadvantaged. They believe the government’s proposal will give Scottish Ministers too much political control over the profession including training, standards workforce, and finances. They want the NSWA to sit outside of government structures and be a non-departmental public body (NDPB) in its own right. ILF Scotland and the Care Inspectorate are examples of NDPBs. These organisations are indirectly responsible to Government Ministers via their Civil Servant Sponsor and can operate with a greater degree of independence than a government department. A NDPB would have its own chief executive with governance provided by a Board and Chair. These are usually ministerial appointments. An NDPB would have control over their own decision making and how to spend their budget but would be a recipient of the resource allocated by government rather than being part of the negotiations around budget allocations.
The question is: where will our voice be most heard to bring about the change so desperately needed for the profession and for the people we support? The answer must lie in where social work can have the greatest influence and impact.
Wherever the National Social Work Agency sits, social workers will have to comply with government policy and also find opportunities for disagreement and dissent. This may be where the value of your professional association lies – as an independent voice with the power of members behind it.