Friday, 3 July 2015

He who pays the piper calls the tune

I have been looking more into the demise of The College of Social Work (TCSW). A lot of details are made clear in a good article in Community Care.

But I went a bit further including tracking down the organisation’s annual report and accounts on the Charity Commission website.

You don’t have to be a financial wizard to see just how vulnerable the organisation was to the government pulling the plug. In the year ending 31st March 2014, total expenditure was approximately £1.87m while income (other than government grants) amounted to only £0.66m, nearly all of which was from membership fees. It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to see that in order for the college to be self-supporting (i.e. without depending on government grants of £1.2m or future government contracts) the income from membership would have to increase more than 2.8 times, an eye-watering amount and probably an unbridgeable gap.

For an organisation that only earned £0.66m it was optimistic (to say the least) to incur annual expenditure of nearly £1m in staffing costs and a further £190,000 in renting an office in London’s West End. Exactly what the departments of Health and Education thought they were playing at in allowing the college to get chest deep into that kind of expenditure, when they knew that future grant aid or contracts could not be assured, beggars belief. It is almost as if the poor old college was invited to bite of more than it could chew.

Some might conclude that the moral of the story is not to get into hock to sharks. My thought is that I cannot imagine how the college of social work could ever have been an independent voice of social work if its financial structure meant that at any moment the government could shut it down just by refusing to sign a check. No true professional association could allow itself to be in such a craven position. And members of the college would never have had an independent voice so long as the indebtedness or contractual dependence persisted.

Talking of contracts most, if not all, of the commentators seem to assume that there was nothing particularly topsy-turvy with the college bidding to develop and administer the process of assessing social workers for the Approved Child and Family Practitioner award, a contract which has now controversially been awarded by the government to Morning Lane Associates.

But it seems to me that a college of social work – if it was ever to aspire to the heights of the medical royal colleges – should have been doing precisely the opposite, i.e. developing its own standards and qualifications not implementing crude bureaucratic pass/fail tests conceived by faceless civil servants and government ministers. Oh well, it’s probably all soon to become forgotten history, water under the bridge as they say.

Before leaving this nest of vipers I must comment on the news breaking this morning that Camila Batmanghelidjh is to leave the children’s charity Kids Company, following what seems to have been an ultimatum by the Cabinet Office that either she went or the charity would receive no more contracts from the Government.

It seems to be another case of a charity reliant on government contracts being told to get into line. The Guardian article quotes Camila as saying that the government is playing “ugly games”. Apparently she believes that Kids Company, which previously enjoyed close relations with the government, blotted its copybook last autumn, when it launched the See the Child campaign that was highly critical of the UK’s child protection system.

The Guardian article quotes a Whitehall source as saying that the See the Child campaign
had “failed to show the government enough respect”. If that is correct then that Whitehall source, and her or his bosses, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. The Kids Company campaign raised genuine concerns and issues and they should be taken very seriously.

Respect indeed!

We – all of us – should be concerned with protecting children, and how to do that best, not doffing our hats to government ministers and Whitehall officials and showing feigned respect. Camila Batmanghelidjh has always been prepared to tell it like it is. The government should respect that, not seek to neutralise her.

But sadly, all too often, he who pays the piper calls the tune.