Social Care Work Force (Development)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 18th April 2002.

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Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party 2:30 pm, 18th April 2002

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I return to the issue of the action plan for a social services work force. I gave you notice of my point of order in the past 15 minutes.

It appears that the action plan for a social services work force has been laid before Parliament, via the clerk, by a member of the Scottish Executive, as set out in rule 14.1.4. I note that paragraph 5 of that document makes an observation about £13.5 million additional funding. The document therefore contains outline proposals for public expenditure. Therefore, under rule 14.2, it cannot be considered.

I believe that the document also requires to be published under rule 14.3. Therefore, rule 14.1.5, which requires the document to be published in the business bulletin, applies. Do you so rule, Presiding Officer?

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The point is an important one. The member is incorrect. The document has not been laid with the clerks under standing orders. I have a letter from the minister explaining that the document was prepared by the department to help to inform today's debate. That is the answer to your point of order.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

On another point, and in light of that ruling—which I am happy to accept, Presiding Officer—were I to make a complaint to the Standards Committee and copy that to you under the code of conduct rule 10.2.1, would you consider that, under code of conduct rule 9.3.4, what has happened today is behaviour that interferes with the conduct of proceedings? The information is vital for the debate, but back-bench members of the Parliament have been given inadequate access to it.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

That standing order relates to bills, so we will leave it. However, if the member writes to me, I will consider whatever he writes to me about.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Presiding Officer, there is a feeling in several parts of the chamber that we are inadequately prepared for the debate. [Interruption.] I wonder whether it would be possible to speak without Mr Fitzpatrick behaving as if he were going to be thrown a fish like a performing seal—not a very good performing seal, or an underperforming seal, as Mr Hamilton has said.

There is a feeling across the chamber that we are not adequately prepared for the debate. In addition, Presiding Officer, the letter that you have just referred to indicates something incredible. Would you permit me, under rule 8.15.1, to move a motion for the adjournment of the debate, on the grounds that we have not had an opportunity to consider the document that is the subject of the debate? That would require a motion without notice to be accepted by you.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I am quite happy to allow you to speak to such a motion for three minutes. I will then invite the Minister for Education and Young People to reply for three minutes, and then we will have to come to a view. On you go.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

So you are prepared to accept a motion without notice and a debate on the motion.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Thank you.

The case has been made several times this afternoon, but let me repeat it again. The motion before us this afternoon says clearly that we are considering a strategy from the Executive on social care work force development. The motion states that the Parliament "endorses the Executive's strategy". The document that contains that strategy was not notified to any of us in the chamber—certainly not those of us on the Opposition benches—until 10 to 2 this afternoon, when the document in photocopied format was delivered to my office and, I think, Mary Scanlon's office.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

That was 10 minutes before the meeting began in the chamber. It was impossible to distribute the document to other members. Indeed, given the terms regarding access to documents under which the business managers operate, its distribution to members would be discouraged. As a result, unless members have had an opportunity to get the document from elsewhere, they are going into a debate at half-past 3 this afternoon to endorse a strategy that they have not seen. That strategy may or not be good, but it is not possible for the chamber to debate it sensibly. I say to the minister that it would be courteous to withdraw the debate to allow us to consider the document and debate it later.

The amendments to the motion were lodged on the basis of what we knew had been said by the Executive over many months. We were unaware that there was something else to be said. If it was said in the debate, that would be fine. If there was a news release, well, we are used to government by news release. However, there is a document that is meant to be the subject of the debate, which we have not been able to consider. That is not democratic. It is not what Scotland expected from the Parliament. It is contrary to the consultative steering group principles. I ask the chamber to make sure that the debate does not happen.

I move,

That, under Rule 8.15.1, the debate on motion S1M-2994 be adjourned.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I invite the Minister for Education and Young People to explain exactly what did happen, rather than write to me.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I am perfectly happy to respond to those points. It is unfortunate that the Opposition parties are choosing to try to stop a very important debate. Frankly, the social care work force will not thank them for that.

The matter simply is this: as Mike Russell said, a number of references to issues in the debate have already been made in other documents. As a courtesy, I put together information that I was due to announce in the debate this afternoon and made it available in advance to the Opposition party spokespersons. This afternoon, in response to points of order, I delivered a letter to the Presiding Officer outlining the fact that the information was made available an hour and a half in advance. A copy of the letter has been placed in the Scottish Parliament information centre.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Ben Wallace says that that is rubbish, but the information was made available an hour and a half in advance of the debate. Frankly, if the political parties' spokespersons could not get that information to their members, that is not my problem. The information was made available in advance as a courtesy to assist the debate this afternoon. As Mike Russell indicated, it would have been perfectly in order for me to come to the chamber this afternoon and make the announcements during the debate. I took the decision to assist the process by making the information available to the Opposition parties' spokespersons. I trust that that is entirely in order.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Absolutely. The minister has confirmed what I said, which was that the document is not a document that is laid before Parliament under the standing orders.

The question is, that the motion to adjourn the debate be agreed to. Are we agreed?



Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

There will be a division. I will allow two minutes for this division, because members may be elsewhere.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Order. I cannot take a point of order during a division, so it will have to wait. The clock is running. I will allow two minutes for the division, rather than the usual 30 seconds.

Division number 1

For: Adam, Brian, Aitken, Bill, Brown, Robert, Campbell, Colin, Canavan, Dennis, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Davidson, Mr David, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Ewing, Dr Winnie, Fabiani, Linda, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, Gibson, Mr Kenneth, Goldie, Miss Annabel, Gorrie, Donald, Grahame, Christine, Hamilton, Mr Duncan, Harper, Robin, Hyslop, Fiona, Johnstone, Alex, Lochhead, Richard, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, MacDonald, Ms Margo, Matheson, Michael, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, McGugan, Irene, McIntosh, Mrs Lyndsay, McLeod, Fiona, Morgan, Alasdair, Neil, Alex, Paterson, Mr Gil, Reid, Mr George, Robison, Shona, Russell, Michael, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, John, Sheridan, Tommy, Smith, Mrs Margaret, Stevenson, Stewart, Sturgeon, Nicola, Swinney, Mr John, Wallace, Ben, Welsh, Mr Andrew, White, Ms Sandra, Wilson, Andrew, Young, John
Against: Alexander, Ms Wendy, Baillie, Jackie, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Butler, Bill, Craigie, Cathie, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Fitzpatrick, Brian, Godman, Trish, Grant, Rhoda, Gray, Iain, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, Mr John, Hughes, Janis, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Jamieson, Margaret, Jenkins, Ian, Kerr, Mr Andy, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lyon, George, Macdonald, Lewis, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, MacKay, Angus, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Paul, McAllion, Mr John, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McConnell, Mr Jack, McMahon, Mr Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mr Mike, Simpson, Dr Richard, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Stephen, Nicol, Thomson, Elaine, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The result of the division is: For 47, Against 57, Abstentions 0.

Motion disagreed to.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I have much pleasure in asking Cathy Jamieson to open the debate. We have lost time already.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. You did not rule clearly. Are we invited to vote on the motion or on the document?

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Members were invited to vote on the motion. As I have made clear, the motion for debate has been lodged and I have selected two amendments to it. I do not really understand what all the fuss was about, in view of the minister's explanation.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The minister made the document available to assist the debate. The motion and the amendments are entirely in order and we are about to debate them.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat

Am I correct that the debate does not endorse the document?

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

The debate is about the motion in the business bulletin, which everybody can read.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 3:43 pm, 18th April 2002

I thank the Presiding Officer for his patience, tolerance and perseverance.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I am delighted to speak in this important and long-awaited debate on the social care work force and its future. Many people who work in social work and social care will read the debate and look for whether we restate our commitment to, and valuing of, the work that they do.

Most members will know that the subject is close to my heart. I know that many members share my view that good quality social services are a mark of a decent and caring society. The values and principles of social work are in line with the Executive's commitments to closing the gap and promoting social justice.

The social care work force delivers vital services for older people, children, families, vulnerable adults and people who have disabilities. It contributes to better community safety through work with offenders and in youth justice and provides services daily on which any of us might have to depend at one time or another. I give the clear message that we recognise and commend the excellence of the work that is being undertaken in Scotland in local authorities, the voluntary sector and the independent sector.

We know that the jobs of social services staff are often difficult and demanding. In recent years, those tasks and roles have become more complex, but the staff's work is often, if not always, unrecognised or taken for granted. The successes of social services staff generally go unnoticed. When a looked-after child is well cared for and succeeds in his or her education, there is no news story. When a child who is at risk is protected—in many cases, lives are literally saved—and his or her development is ensured for the future, there is no news story. When an older person is helped by a creative package of care that allows them stay at home instead of having to move, there is no news story. When a young person is diverted from offending, there is no news story.

All too often, we hear about social services only when things go wrong. We must correct the balance of public perception. Although it is right that we seek to learn from errors and poor practice, the good-news stories must be better told and the complexities of social services must be better understood. We need to promote a better understanding of exactly what the work force does and how important it is. I am aware that workers in social services have at times felt that their efforts go unrecognised. The Executive does not and will not take the social services work force for granted. We value highly the work of all social services staff. We recognise that, despite the challenges, difficulties and frustrations of the work, social services can be a very rewarding career.

During the past 10 years, the number of social care staff in local authority social work departments has fallen from 35,900 to 34,200, although the overall size of the social care work force, as regulated by the new Scottish Social Services Council, has risen. During the same period, the number of social workers and senior social workers has risen by 20 per cent to 3,900. Despite a net increase of more than 100 social workers last year, there are a significant number of vacancies—estimated to be around 350 posts. There are also vacancies for home care workers—around 5 per cent of the total posts. Vacancy levels vary throughout Scotland. There are different reasons for that. In some areas, it might be because of pressure of work, while in other areas, the creation of new posts in the voluntary and specialised sectors has meant that basic grade posts remain vacant.

I am aware of the concerns about the difficulty of attracting staff into social services. I recognise the vital need to support the development of the work force and the need to work with employers on tackling the problems of staff recruitment and retention that arise in different areas. That is why I am launching today a new action plan for the social services work force.

I want to make it clear that the plan includes the actions that I will take immediately, as well as those that I will take in the next few weeks and months. The plan is based on listening to social work and social care staff, the trade unions, professional organisations such as the Association of Directors of Social Work and the British Association of Social Workers, and local authorities. I thank the organisations that, during the past few weeks and months, have put forward information and helped to draw together the main points in the action plan.

Five key strategic aims underpin the plan. The first is to introduce more effective ways of recruiting and retaining staff. The second is to set in place a new social work honours degree qualification for front-line staff, which will be accessible to all those who have the relevant knowledge and skills. The third is to develop the role of the Scottish Social Services Council in regulating staff and their training. The fourth is to raise investment in learning and support for all front-line staff. The fifth is to negotiate, with an integrated approach to service delivery, the boundaries for the new sector skills councils.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. It has come to my attention that, contrary to what the minister said about providing the action plan in advance to assist the debate, other organisations were informed of the action plan well in advance, at the beginning of the day. That casts doubt on the letter that the minister sent to the Presiding Officer saying that the document was a plan to help to advise members. That is misleading. If outside organisations were shown the courtesy of being given an advance copy, why were we not?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I have no knowledge of that at this point. Perhaps the minister will enlighten us.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I am happy to respond. No outside organisation was given a copy of the document. I have had discussions with organisations in the course of my work and in considering what we might do. It is worth recognising the fact that parties of all political persuasions have called for this kind of action over a long period. I hope that we can concentrate on delivering an action plan that will tackle the real problems for the front-line staff and deliver a better service for people.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I want to make progress. We have wasted enough time today.

A number of steps are needed to ensure that we have a social services work force that is equipped to meet these strategic aims and the needs of the most vulnerable people in our society now and in the future. The problems of staff recruitment and morale in social services must be addressed. To do that, we must ensure that people in the work force are well equipped for the job that they are doing, that they are adequately supported in their day-to-day roles and that they are valued for the often difficult and challenging work that they do. I am putting immediate plans in place to set up a recruitment campaign to raise the profile of the important work that is done by social services staff and to attract more interest in that area of work as a rewarding and worthwhile career. The campaign will take a broad-based approach, emphasising the fact that opportunities exist for people with a range of experience and skills.

I am aware that there are concerns that recruitment and retention are particularly acute issues in children's and family services. The Executive is committed to providing an integrated approach to children's services and recognises that we need to plan properly for the longer-term development of that vital work force. Therefore, I am commissioning research into the labour market for children's services throughout Scotland.

To develop a competent and skilled work force to meet the challenges of providing social services in the 21st century, we will introduce a new honours degree qualification in social work. I intend to ensure that that will be accessible to all people with the relevant skills and knowledge and that it will provide a sound foundation on which specialist skills can be built.

Funding has also been allocated to develop return-to-learn courses for social care staff in conjunction with the Workers Educational Association. At the end of the last financial year, I allocated £3.5 million of additional funding for local authority social services staff training and support for front-line staff. I will shortly talk to the Association of Directors of Social Work to see what we can do to help it further in promoting employer investment in better support for front-line staff. We will seek to renew the funding that is made available to it to improve the situation.

From talking to people at the sharp end of social services, I know that leadership skills are important. We are therefore committed to providing training for social services managers to enable them to meet the challenges of leading and providing modern public services as well as supporting staff in delivering those vital services to our communities. Ministers throughout the Executive have an interest in that work and in ensuring that the action that we are taking—now and over the coming weeks—achieves the outcomes that we have set out in the action plan. Therefore, I have initiated new, joint ministerial meetings that will co-ordinate social services policy and performance reporting. Those meetings will be crucial to the delivery of coherent, integrated policies.

I also announce today the creation of a new post within the social work services inspectorate, which will have responsibility for co-ordinating policies that affect social services throughout the Executive.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

There is one thing that I do not understand—of course, we have not been given enough information to understand it. Looking at the Executive's document, which we received about 15 seconds before the debate, I am struck by the fact that the minister is rushing at the situation, having done nothing since she came to office. Her predecessor did nothing when he was in office and his predecessor did nothing when he was in office. Indeed, the base document for the action plan was signed off by Donald Dewar as the Secretary of State for Scotland, in March 1999. This crisis has been allowed to happen and we are now hearing the usual platitudes from the Executive when it realises that it has been caught out.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I find that astonishing. It would have been easy for us to say that we would take time to review the strategy and would set up review groups. We do not need to do that. Mr Russell is right. We know where the problems are and what action must be taken to resolve them. I am taking that action today. I say to Mr Russell that my action will be welcomed by every social worker and social work manager, the professional organisations, the trade unions and social work education providers, who have been calling out for months for these actions. They will welcome the strategy.

I know that I am in my last minute, Presiding Officer, but I want to wind up.

We must remember that the debate is crucial for delivering better services to the people who depend on them. Therefore, to ensure that progress continues, I will set up two project delivery groups. They will not be review groups that will kick matters into the long grass. The two groups will work on the strategy to ensure that it delivers quickly. One group will focus on the recruitment and retention of the work force; the other will focus on the future of social work education at degree level and in vocational qualifications. I think that that action should be welcomed. I hope that, instead of carping and criticising, the Opposition parties will at least have the decency to join me in commending what the work force currently does and in looking to the future.

I move,

That the Parliament commends the work of the social services workforce in local authorities, in voluntary organisations and in the private sector in providing vital services for older people, for children and their families and for people with disabilities and others, and in contributing to better community safety through work with offenders and in youth justice; notes the work already undertaken by the Executive to support the development of this workforce, and endorses the Executive's strategy and commitment to further work to secure a well trained workforce.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 3:56 pm, 18th April 2002

It is important never to forget that the social care work force plays a major role in providing the services that make and deliver positive improvements in the lives of many people. Indeed, the Executive has placed social work at the heart of the delivery of many of its key initiatives, such as free personal care, drug courts and new community schools. However, all that must be set against a backdrop of increasing and critical difficulties being experienced by social work departments in recruiting and retraining staff.

Social work is failing to attract the number and quality of entrants that are needed to provide a strong and sustainable work force. The enormous pressures that are faced daily by social workers have led many of them to leave the profession. Is any of that reflected in the minister's motion that is before us? No. Without acknowledgement that there is a big problem—indeed, a crisis—it is almost impossible for the minister to take the appropriate steps to deal with the problem.

The meat of the debate, however, is not contained in the Executive's motion, but in the announcements that have just been made and which were copied to us earlier today. The day before this important debate on social care work force development there were no details of a recruitment or training strategy and no policy paper was available for scrutiny. Having to respond with little prior notification does not allow a robust or informed debate on the relevant issues. I suspect that the profession—which is the minister's and mine—will be a bit disappointed that this crucial debate has been compromised in that way.

To remind us why we need more and better qualified social workers I point out that child poverty levels in Scotland are at 30 per cent; more than 11,000 children in Scotland are looked after by local authorities; and between 1995 and 2000 there was a 49 per cent rise in referrals to children's hearings. However, the crisis in staffing levels has led to unallocated cases and constant firefighting. Glasgow City Council, for example, reported that at least 300 of the 2,384 children whom it placed under supervision orders had not been allocated social workers.

Despite the need for increased front-line social services, the number of passes in the diploma in social work has fallen since Labour came to power. Over the same five-year period, non-graduate passes have dropped by 21 per cent. There is a current drop of 50 per cent in Scotland in applications for diploma in social work courses. England and Wales are calling for more three-year degree courses in social work. However, the University of Edinburgh has been forced to close its degree course because of the sharp reduction in applicants.

Today's announcements about training are very welcome, but very delayed, as Mike Russell said. The minister will recognise the document that I hold in my hand; it is called "Aiming for Excellence" and was produced when both of us were working in social work. The document promised that there would be a policy paper on training for the profession.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I would like Irene McGugan to repeat her comment that the announcements today are welcome, which does not seem to be the view of her colleague, Mr Russell, and the rest of her colleagues who did not want to have the debate this afternoon.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party

The second clause of the sentence to which the minister refers was "but very delayed". It is important to remember that.

The fact is that the rest of the UK has long since announced its policy intentions and is progressing with its planning. In the meantime, Scotland has fallen seriously behind. That delay is what has held back the development of social work as a profession.

Much of the discussion about social work training has centred recently around the stage at which we should move from generic to specialist training. I share the view of the British Association of Social Workers and others that social work needs people who can think holistically and that specialism should take place later down the line, probably after the probationary year. We get no indication in the strategy document about what position the Executive and its partners have taken on that. However, great concern about the transferability of registration could be caused in other UK countries if we get out of general alignment in our training. That could prejudice Scottish social workers. We know that England, Wales and Northern Ireland have all decided to go for generic training at qualifying level.

Specialism at an early stage would create too inflexible a work force. Any changes that are made must deliver strong training at the qualifying level and specialism much later. The Executive's policies are all about integration and joint working, so why not introduce a broad-based approach to training that will ensure that people can work with teachers, nurses, doctors and others in a way that means that, as confident professionals, we know how to work with each other? I hope that the new joint ministerial meetings—if that is the name for them—will take that on board.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

Would Irene McGugan agree that, in social work training—pre and post-qualification—the core skills and values of social work are often more important than knowledge of the differences that are built into the various specialisms? I always thought that one of the great things about social work in Scotland was the fact that we did probation work as part of our qualification as opposed to the situation south of the border, where probation was always seen as a separate entity.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party

I quite agree, but the strategy document gives no indication or any details of the way in which we might move towards the situation that Scott Barrie describes.

The time scale for putting the courses together is tight. The Association of Directors of Social Work has ascertained that, if universities do not know by June what the arrangements are, they are unlikely to be in a position to offer new courses in 2004. The timetable in the strategy document says that it might take nine months to agree recommendations to put together a new course. I hope that the minister will address that critical inconsistency. It should be noted that, whatever the case, it will be 2008 before the first of the new graduates start work.

The document mentions an allocation of £3.5 million to address some of the training pressures in the system. That is also welcome, but it is a drop in the ocean. It is wholly inadequate as a response to the scale of the problem.

As well as addressing the problems of training and recruitment, the minister must deliver a strategy that meaningfully addresses all the underlying difficulties, such as the public's perception of social work. Measures must be put in place to assist local authorities with the retention of their social work staff. Support for frontline staff must be increased through, for example, measures such as sabbaticals and flexible working. There is widespread support for a review of pay and conditions, but I see no mention of that in the strategy document. Those are the kinds of initiatives that will get people into the profession and help to keep them there. We need to be confident that those problems will be addressed. Restructuring alone will not solve staff-shortage problems or deal with the unmanageable workload and the lack of morale. The minister acknowledged the problem with morale but, given that it is a fundamental problem, I do not think that she acknowledged it as fully as she should have.

The debate and today's announcements are but a start. The Executive must address all the issues that surround the recruitment and retention of front-line social work staff with greater urgency and much greater detail and clarity than appear in the action plan.

I move amendment S1M-2994.1, to leave out from the second "the work" to end and insert:

"the steady decline over the last five years in applications to study social work; further notes that Edinburgh University is poised to scrap its social work degree; further notes that difficulties in recruiting social workers are expressed as a serious concern by the majority of local authorities in Scotland; regrets the absence of a recruitment campaign such as has been launched in other parts of the UK and deplores the lack of strategy which will address the poor public image of the profession, review the pay and conditions of social workers, increase flexibility in job opportunities to aid retention, develop positive initiatives to support front line staff or encourage secondment, and concludes that the Executive is merely posturing on this issue and neither acknowledging the crisis nor addressing the critical issues with real commitment."

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I call Ben Wallace. I hope to comment shortly on the papers with which you have now provided me.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative 4:05 pm, 18th April 2002

I will give the minister one thing: the action plan is not a glossy document. It has not been leaked on "Scotland Today" and it has not appeared on our desk after having been sent all over Scotland—that is for sure. The trailed piece of paper, which came to us without the expected courtesy, as we mentioned earlier, is rather thin, weak and pathetic.

I wrote a five-page speech that I had thought would be a good contribution. I make it clear before we get into the debate that the Scottish Conservatives are supportive of social work. A lot can be done to improve social workers' pay and conditions, their qualifications and their future. Like many careers in the public sector, social work does not get the priority or profile that it deserves.

The content of the debate does not excuse the Executive's conduct. The minister seems to think that, because the debate is about social work, she can stand up and say "How dare you criticise our conduct in the debate." The Conservatives would like to debate social work. We are happy to debate it for two hours, three hours or longer. We would have been happy to be fully involved in drawing up an action plan at an early stage. However, we will not come to the chamber on a Thursday afternoon when we had the budget yesterday to be patronised by a motion that is dangled before us on Monday night and an action plan that we do not get until 10 minutes before the debate. That shows contempt for the Parliament and for those in the industry. If the minister wants to know why the debate is marred by such argument, I tell her that it is because of her actions, not ours. That is an insult to social workers.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Does Ben Wallace accept that it would have been perfectly in order for me to have come to the debate and made a number of announcements without giving notice? I gave notice as a matter of courtesy in order to assist the process. Ben Wallace should at least acknowledge that.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

I will acknowledge that what the minister gave us was in fact a ministerial statement. We all know the rules of the game with a ministerial statement. The minister's speech was along the lines of a ministerial statement—it contained a number of new announcements. If the minister is not brave enough to make a ministerial statement, she should own up to that. We know how to deal with ministerial statements and we know how to deal with debates. The minister must make her mind up which she wants.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

I will not give way again. I am moving on to some of my points about social work, because I think that we owe it to social workers. It is clear from the letters that the Conservatives received in advance of the debate that there is pressure for a much wider, McCrone-type inquiry into social work. If such an open and transparent inquiry were carried out, that would be good for social work.

As in the health sector, many reports on best practice—on which we should have picked up earlier—have been published in England and Wales. The Department of Health's report on social work was extremely good. It ended up last October with the Secretary of State for Health announcing a big, high-profile advertising campaign to promote social work and careers in social work. There have since been 25,000 inquiries as a result of that initiative. It is a first-class initiative. It is a pity that we could not have learnt from it when it was launched in October or that the minister could not have met up with her counterpart and gone ahead with that initiative at the time. That is a wasted opportunity. I hope that we pick up on and implement that initiative.

One of the best things that has come out of the Executive since it began is the establishment of the Scottish Social Services Council and the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care. Those are extremely good steps and will do public opinion and confidence a lot of good. They will raise the profile of social work and go a long way to ensuring that social work is given its rightful place. I welcome that.

I have never been a social worker, but I worked closely with social workers in the army and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association and I know the good that they do. The damaging press reports in which social work is blamed in a blanket way for negligence or other problems are unfair to a large employer and to a cause that does some good.

I intend to visit the Scottish Social Services Council and the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care. I went to the launch of the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care in the Scottish Parliament—it is a matter of regret that only two MSPs were there, although that is beside the point.

I ask the minister to take it into account that, during the bedding in of the council and of the commission, registration may impose a large financial burden on some sectors. For example, someone running a residential home will have to pay to register with the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care. I do not know whether a cost is involved in registration with the Scottish Social Services Council. That is potential double burden, which I ask the minister to bear in mind.

We should consider social work as it is now, as it was designed under Harold Wilson in the Social Work Act 1968. I do not propose that we break the social work sector up, but social work seems to get blamed because all the specialties are not identified, and are labelled simply as social work. We could perhaps improve the profile of the specialties within social work or do some demarcation—I would use the word "branding" if this were a commercial context.

People take pride in their specialties—although I am not suggesting that the general foundation of what is learned in social work should be undermined. When people choose to go into child services, for example, better demarcation would allow them to take more pride in their work. The reputation of child services would not be tarnished every time something went wrong in community care if they did not always come under the common heading of social work. That is simply an idea—which members might think is a waste of time—but it illustrates the theme of belonging, and such demarcation might go some way to improve matters.

The Scottish Conservatives recognise the fact that a lot more work has to be done. I notice that there are some positive statistics on who is employed in social work. Eighty-five per cent of those working in social work are women. We could perhaps examine pay and conditions in order to help women in the sector more. I know that that would help with retention in child care, and I have heard of instances of companies where retention has been improved by a focus on pay and conditions.

Inevitably, the pay issue has been mentioned. I do not disagree that social workers are low paid. We have to remember that there are a lot of underpaid people in the public sector. For example, there is a lieutenant-colonel who commands a regiment. Given my background, I can confirm this. He is responsible for millions of pounds' worth of equipment and hundreds of soldiers' lives. He has given 18 years' service, and gets paid about £50,000. The director of social services of Fife Council is paid in excess of £75,000. We have to consider the situation across the board in the public sector.

At the lower end of the scale, a regimental sergeant major who has given 22 years' service gets paid less than £27,000. They have a lot of responsibility, and their work is just as noble as that of other people working in the public sector.

We welcome the fact that the Scottish Executive is talking about social work, but we want its arguments to be presented in adult way so that we can be involved, and so that the Parliament may be accorded the consideration that it deserves.

I move amendment S1M-2994.2, to leave out from second "the work" to end and insert:

"with concern the workforce's increasing difficulty in carrying out these tasks owing to poor levels of staffing, increased bureaucracy and additional demands on what was already an over-stretched workforce, and therefore calls upon the Scottish Executive to redouble its efforts to secure an appropriately staffed and trained social care workforce which is capable of carrying out its necessary functions."

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Before we move on, I will comment on the papers that Mr Ben Wallace has now provided to me. Members will recall that Mr Wallace claimed that advance notice of the background paper had been given to outside bodies. The Minister for Education and Young People replied that there had been no issue of papers. Both members would appear to be more or less correct. I have a paper in front of me from the British Association of Social WorkersBASW—dated yesterday. It contains the line:

"BASW welcomes the fact that there will be an announcement about the recruitment and retention of staff."

However, that might have been construed simply from the debate heading, "Social Care Workforce Development". I suggest that we leave the matter at this point and continue with the debate. If everyone is content with that I will call Margaret Smith.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat 4:14 pm, 18th April 2002

I welcome the announcements made by the minister today, but I feel unable to talk about them in any detail.

Two years ago, I highlighted the significant issue of violence against social workers, which contributes to problems in recruitment and retention. I highlighted that in a members' business debate, which contained some good contributions from across the chamber. I would appreciate an update from the minister on what progress has been made on the issue.

Over nearly three years as convener of the Health and Community Care Committee, which scrutinised the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002 and the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001, I have worked alongside people from the social work profession and from the care professions more generally. I hold those people in the highest possible esteem. That work force delivers care to 500,000 Scots across a range of ages and needs. It provides services for young people, for the elderly, for people with disabilities, for children with special needs, for offenders and for the families of those people. In what I am about to say, I mean them no disrespect.

I had intended to speak at my usual great length and with my usual lack of great oratory about the social care work force, particularly the role of the new Scottish Social Services Council. However, based on what has happened here today, I feel compelled to make known my views on the way in which this matter has been dealt with. Yesterday my party business manager and I made strenuous efforts to get to the bottom of what the minister would announce today and what would be discussed. I wanted to ensure that I was on the right lines when speaking about an area with which I was to some extent unfamiliar. Despite face-to-face conversations, we were at no point told that an action plan would be presented to the chamber at short notice this afternoon.

For that reason, I feel unable to take any further part in the debate. I mean no disrespect to Scotland's social care workers—as I said, I hold them in the highest possible regard. However, I believe that members of the Parliament should similarly be held in the highest possible regard. The Executive should treat back benchers from all parties with the respect that they deserve and give them access to the information that they need to do their jobs properly and in good time.

I will take no further part in this or any other similarly compromised debate.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. If, as we have now discovered, even the partners in the coalition were not told of the existence of the document that we have received this afternoon, would it not be sensible for the minister—even at this stage—to cease this farce and to allow us to read the document properly, to reflect on it and to return to this debate in, say, seven days' time?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The minister has made her position clear. She wishes to continue with the debate, and that is what I propose we do.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:17 pm, 18th April 2002

I am very pleased that we are at last discussing social work work forces in local authorities. This debate is taking place not before time. However, the motion contains a small but annoying error. In Scotland we do not have social services, but social work. We have the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 and a qualification in social work [Interruption.] That funny noise is not my pager going off.

As some members have said, social work is a much-maligned profession. It is the kind of profession that people are not happy to admit they belong to. Social workers seem to get nothing but bad press. We know the headlines—stories about elderly people being left unattended and children at risk being left in the community.

We also know that that is not the true picture. As we debate the issue, thousands of social workers throughout Scotland are caring for, listening to and supporting people who have wide-ranging needs. How many of us could spend our working lives caring for, cleaning up after or supporting adults who have learning difficulties, for example? I do not think that any of us could do that.

Social work is fundamental to the delivery of the social justice and anti-poverty strategies of the Parliament. Social workers will not only work with, but fight for, the rights of children, women, older people and people who are mentally ill. Social workers will alert us to injustices in the community, as they work with and support those who suffer those injustices.

We are asked to endorse the Executive's commitment to a well-trained workforce. Unlike the Opposition amendments, I agree that we should do that. I also agree with Irene McGugan that social workers should have generic training. If they wish to specialise, they should do so post graduation.

I have never had anyone referred to me in isolation—there is always a connection to a family or friend. A referral from a children's panel can lead to family therapy, drug therapy, advice on dealing with drug abuse, work with the school concerned, welfare rights work and host of other issues and ways of working. What would happen if every student wanted to specialise in criminal justice? Would we find ourselves having to force them to work in child care?

What about the social workers who work best at the coalface with clients, but have moved into management because of financial responsibilities? Ben Wallace asked whether we will have a thorough review of the system. I believe that the system should allow social workers to continue to work directly with people if they wish to do that, because that will perhaps be where they work best. We have addressed teaching—teachers who wish to teach in front of the class are now allowed to do that, because that is where their skill is.

I know that the minister will agree that morale in social work is very low. There have been initiatives from the Parliament, such as the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 and the national Care Standards Act 2000. Responsibility for social work in the Executive is fragmented. We have the Minister for Education and Young People and the Minister for Health and Community Care. All the other elements of social work seem to be connected to criminal justice. Although I can see the connection, I am not happy about it.

The Parliament is new; it is a new beginning, but we have no minister for social work and no relevant committee. What does that say to social workers? Does it say, "Yes, you are greatly appreciated and we couldn't do your job, but you are not really important"?

My final comment concerns the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, which is a remarkable piece of legislation. It has shaped social work in this country for many years. When Jack Straw was Home Secretary, he amended section 12 in relation to families of asylum seekers. I believe that it was morally wrong to do that and I told him and his officials so at the time. Will the minister confirm that all Scottish social work legislation should and will be the responsibility only of this Parliament and that no Westminster minister should ever again seek to change or alter the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968?

I believe that the Parliament is at last addressing the position of social workers. I support the motion and look forward to further developments.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I have had a late run of names. I doubt that I will get everybody in. Speeches should be of less than four minutes and we will see where we get.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party 4:22 pm, 18th April 2002

I think that you will have plenty of time, Presiding Officer. I was looking forward to the debate today, because it is about an important issue. I certainly wanted to engage with the Executive today, particularly regarding child protection.

However, it is unfortunate that I feel that I am severely disadvantaged—I have not seen the document, never mind read a note on it. I had written a speech, but it would be entirely wrong for me to make that speech, not knowing what is in store. I am not noted for using knocking copy and I certainly do not intend to start today.

That is my speech over, but I will make the speech that I wrote available for the record, if possible.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 4:23 pm, 18th April 2002

The first thing that an Opposition party or an MSP in the Parliament does when they receive a motion is look at what the heart of the motion is about. The motion asks us to support the development of the work force and to endorse the strategy. Naturally, the first thing that I did was ask my researcher to find the strategy so that I could make an informed contribution to the debate.

I support totally the social work force and social workers. I do not want any negative points that I make to be seen as detrimental to my commitment to them. I was desperate to speak today—like many other members—particularly from the health point of view, given that we have passed the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001, the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2001 and the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002. We are about to have a mental health act. One cannot sit on the Health and Community Care Committee without realising the importance of health.

When I heard that there would be other speakers from the Education, Culture and Sport Committee and that the Minister for Education and Young People would speak, I wanted to examine the strategy more. I am angry that we received the note ten minutes in advance of the debate. Like other members, I cannot make informed input to the debate.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

No, I am going to be brief.

The one point that I wanted to make was that in the Highlands many social work teams are below 50 per cent strength and are now offering bursaries. I would have liked to enter into dialogue with the Highland Council to ask whether the strategy is what it is looking for. I want to represent my constituents, but have been unable to do so today.

I ask one question based on my minimal examination of the action plan and on point 9 of that document. I hope that the Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care will answer my question, which is about the integrated human resources working group, the joint future agenda for community care and so on. We all know that free personal care for the elderly was to be delivered on 1 April, but the date has been changed to 1 July. The action plan says that in the next nine weeks—by 1 July—an integrated human resources working group report will be published. It goes on to say that, in the next nine months, the Executive will

"Link plans on future action from these two initiatives and this action plan."

The date for that work is January next year.

My question for the deputy minister is simple: how will that work impact on the implementation of free personal care? Will social work departments be able to draw up the assessments, placements, home care packages and everything else that will be needed to implement free personal care?

I am sorry to have taken a negative tone, which is in no way directed against the social work work force. I ask the minister to treat with more courtesy MSPs, including me, who wanted to make a courteous and informed contribution to the debate.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 4:26 pm, 18th April 2002

I am pleased to speak in the debate. In my previous life, I was concerned with professional development and accreditation of courses. Therefore, I thought that the debate would be a welcome opportunity to discuss those matters. I cannot understand the Opposition's position. The Scottish Parliament information centre has produced a document, "Social Care Workforce Development", which outlines the issues. If one were to contact any university department, one would find out what the issues are. Opposition members have said, for saying's sake, that they do not want the debate.

I will move on. It is clear that the debate is about the work force and its training needs, including initial training, continuing professional training and accreditation of prior learning for those who have acquired knowledge and skills in the field through practice, but who have not received recognition for that prior learning. There is an obvious need to accredit prior learning.

Social workers represent an important group in the social care work force. Given the limited time that is available to me, I will restrict myself to comments on that group of workers. I gather that much discussion has already taken place at further and higher education level on the best way forward. Irene McGugan outlined the big issue: should we have a generic initial degree, with specialisms coming later, in post-graduate courses, or should we go for something different? The British Association of Social Workers also asked that crucial question. I welcome what the minister said when she spoke about the degree, but when will that degree be introduced? I understand that, in England, the degree will be introduced in 2003 and I urge the minister to introduce the degree in Scotland as soon as possible.

The minister spoke about recruitment and retention, which are crucial issues. We have discussed attempts to keep classroom teachers in the classroom, and exactly the same issue arises in social work. It is important that we examine the career structure of front-line social workers. We must not allow them to think that they must go down the management route or into an entirely different job in order to get better pay. Ben Wallace's point about image was also important. We can learn a lot from what has been introduced into the area south of the border and from the encouragement that people have been given to enter the teaching and nursing professions. The minister mentioned a recruitment campaign and I encourage her to get that important campaign going as quickly as possible.

My final point is on resources. I gather that the average age of students entering initial training in social work is 35. Those students will have many more financial concerns, possibly because of family commitments, than will younger students. That issue needs to be addressed. Postgraduate students receive bursaries, but undergraduates and students who are studying for a diploma rather than following a graduate course do not receive a bursary. I am told that as a result of that, the burden on the students and the universities—which, in terms of placement, is as much as £17 per student per day—can be very hefty. I would like the minister to take on board those points and address them in his closing remarks.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Ian Jenkins is next. We are consulting about closing speakers.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat 4:30 pm, 18th April 2002

In the Parliament, we often speak about having a cross-cutting agenda and we frequently advocate joined-up thinking. There is a danger that such phrases trip off the tongue and become glib clichés. The motion that we are debating deals with joined-up issues and cross-cutting issues. The social care work force that is referred to in the title of the debate is built into the fabric of the nation's life and deals with a wide range of aspects of that life, including lifelong learning, education, justice, health, lifelong care and social justice. Therefore, I welcome the minister's idea of holding joint ministerial meetings and establishing an inspectorate that will look at the issue in its entirety. I acknowledge the related case for generic training for a first degree, which will allow people to see across the spectrum of social work.

The motion invites us to commend the work of the social services work force in all those areas and recognises that that work force is employed in the voluntary, local government and private sectors. The whole fabric of our society depends on those who work in social care. Children at risk, looked-after children, foster children, children who have disabilities, people who have learning disabilities and those who have mental health or drugs problems all depend on such workers. Another dependent activity is care of the elderly—an area that will expand massively in the next few years for all sorts of reasons, including the implementation of free personal care.

Several members have mentioned the problems that are associated with recruiting and retaining staff at all levels in the social care spectrum. Care providers throughout the country find it increasingly difficult to find qualified staff. Therefore, it is vital that we have a programme for recruitment and education, which the action plan contains.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I recall the remarks that the member's colleague Margaret Smith made. She made it clear that she was not able to comment on the detail because she had not seen the document. When did Mr Jenkins see the document? How long has he had to study it? He is referring in detail to aspects of the plan. Did he obtain the plan before Margaret Smith?

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat

I obtained the plan during question time, at about question 10. I picked it up off the table at the back of the chamber. I have read through it and have seen a few items—including recruitment and education—on which I feel I can comment because I am interested in them. I can pick up what the plan says and tie it in with what I intended to say, which I admit was not terribly deep.

We must acknowledge the valuable work that social workers do and we must put in place a system that recognises the value of that work, provides workers with a career development ladder, acknowledges experience, offers qualifications and certification and raises the status of what should be viewed as a structured profession. As with McCrone, I agree that there should be consideration of people who do not wish to leave the coalface, but qualifications must also be available for managers and middle managers. That has not previously been provided in a co-ordinated way.

The minister is intent on building on the work that has been put in train with the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 and the work of the Scottish Social Services Council and the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care, which seek to strengthen and support the professionalism of the work force and to raise standards of practice. We must also acknowledge that better qualifications and improved professionalism require better pay. That will be a consideration in the long run.

Training courses and certification—for example, Scottish vocational qualifications and Scottish group awards—are available. Further education offers highers and higher national certificates in various aspects of care and social work. In that regard, I ask the minister to ensure that such courses and qualifications are available throughout the country. In areas such as the Borders, it is difficult to access all the courses that are available. The university courses in Edinburgh have been stopped.

I have not quite finished my remarks, but I will stop there as I have run over my time.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

There has been some rearrangement of closing speakers, so I now call Scott Barrie, who will be followed by a brief speech from Colin Campbell.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 4:35 pm, 18th April 2002

I declare an interest as I hold a postgraduate social work qualification and am a member of Unison, which is the major social care trade union. I am someone—perhaps unlike Trish Godman—who is proud to call himself a social worker.

When we discussed the Adoption and Children Bill, which was UK legislation, Mike Russell had a bit of a go at me. He said that, somehow or other, I was a disgrace to the Parliament because I supported a Sewel motion. On that day, I actually wanted to talk about the difficulties that adopted children face whether they are south or north of the border. Again today, I have come to the debate, not to indulge in petty point scoring about when we received or did not receive a document and what its status is, but to discuss social work recruitment and retention. That is one of the main issues that has affected my profession not only for the past few years, but for the past couple of decades.

It is clear that we have a serious problem with recruitment and retention of qualified social workers. We also have another difficulty in the wider social care work force, some 80 per cent of which holds no professional qualification. Most of those people are employed in part-time posts and often have poor terms and conditions. It is somewhat surprising that, despite the stushie that has been generated this afternoon, the two Conservative speakers made no mention of the wording of their amendment, which talks about

"poor levels of staffing, increased bureaucracy and additional demands".

Perhaps that was because those members do not know what their amendment says, or perhaps those phrases were just thrown into the amendment without understanding the issue. I see Mary Scanlon shaking her head but, had she wanted to discuss her amendment, she could have done so instead of indulging in point scoring on the events of this afternoon.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

Although I would like to know what the "increased bureaucracy" is, I doubt that Ben Wallace will explain it, so I will not take the intervention.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

If the member had read the submission by Professor Holman, who is an expert on child services, he would know that the professor writes extensively on the increase in bureaucracy. We agreed with that point.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

Some of the so-called increased bureaucracy in child and family service—a service that I know well—is about trying to ensure that we care better for children than we have done previously. That so-called bureaucracy is about good parenting and good outcomes. Ben Wallace mentioned that he was impressed by Department of Health documents, but much of the supposed increase in bureaucracy is borrowed directly from the Department of Health stuff, which is trying to achieve better outcomes for looked-after young people in our system.

It is significant that there is a major problem in the retention and recruitment of child and family social workers. The same difficulty does not seem to exist in criminal justice, but that was not always the case. A significant watershed occurred in 1990, when national standards were introduced for work on offending. What I would like to see—I see Irene McGugan nodding her head, so she must know what I am about to say—is a strategy that encompasses a structured approach to child and family work within the work that the minister outlined today. If we were to achieve that, we would go some way toward making child and family social work a more attractive option for those who hold a social work qualification. Too often in the past, the negative images of child and family social work, which can be summed up as "You're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't", have militated against that aspect of social work.

We should also take up the suggestion of Trish Godman and Sylvia Jackson and seriously consider introducing a senior practitioner grade in order to retain within mainstream social work people who are good at their jobs. In that way, such people would not need to go through a whole series of promotions to secure added economic advantage, as I had to do. That would also go some way towards making social work a more attractive profession.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We will have a final brief contribution from Colin Campbell.

Photo of Colin Campbell Colin Campbell Scottish National Party 4:39 pm, 18th April 2002

It was my intention to speak only briefly because we are in some dispute over the legitimacy of parts of the debate.

I support social workers. I wanted to talk about three main points: the interface between education and social work; the safety of social workers in criminal justice; and financial reward for additional qualifications. However, in the light of the information deficit that characterised the start of the debate, that is all that I want to say. I will be happy to make my speech available for the record or for the minister if she asks for it.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We move now to wind-up speeches. I call Robert Brown. If you could keep your contribution reasonably short I would be grateful.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I know that the minister has had a difficult day, but it is important that she understand the cause of today's problem. The problem is not, as some members have claimed, to do with Opposition members getting information; it is a parliamentary issue and relates to the Parliament getting information. The Parliament's job is to hold the Executive to account in a situation where the Executive, like all Governments, has many of the cards stacked in its favour. I am thinking, for example, of the official back-up that the Executive has.

The aide-mémoire that we have been presented with this afternoon leaves an awful lot of questions unanswered. Does the minister intend, in due course, to present the Parliament with a properly considered action plan giving some of the details that members have been grasping for this afternoon?

The aide-mémoire sets many deadlines of nine weeks or nine months. To allow us to have a further debate, would it be unreasonable to ask the Executive to consider coming back to the Parliament before the summer recess to report on where we stand on issues such as education and the new degree arrangements, perhaps explaining why the Scottish degree arrangements are a year behind the English arrangements?

Some members spoke about the advertising campaign in England and Wales. According to the BASW, the campaign was not very successful in leading to new applications for jobs. That indicates the depth of the problems. In my city of Glasgow, there are pressure points where such problems are least wanted and where the resources of social workers are most needed.

Salary is an issue. The BASW tells us that a qualified social worker with 25 years' experience and a master's degree earns less than a newly qualified young police officer.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

That is what the BASW says in its report. No wonder there is a recruitment and retention crisis. Those issues must be addressed urgently. As was said, we need a McCrone-type investigation into these matters so that all aspects can be dealt with and we are not landed in the position of having a sideways displacement of the problem, if I can put it that way.

The fact that the age profile of the profession is rising and the identified increase in people taking early retirement are a double whammy with a vengeance. Not only long-term action but immediate action is required to attract qualified social workers back into the profession, perhaps by offering part-time posts or flexible conditions, or by recruiting other suitable professionals such as retiring—and I do not mean shy—police officers or teachers. The longer-term issues have to be dealt with properly. That is true not only for social workers but for the people who need their services, such as young people in trouble, victims of domestic breakdown or abuse and families in crisis—all the people who, in a multitude of ways, fall through the net of our demanding 21st century society.

I ask the minister to pay particular regard to the urgency of the situation in Glasgow, which is the part of Scotland with the greatest needs and the fewest social workers relative to those needs.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 4:44 pm, 18th April 2002

I would like to take this opportunity to try to diffuse the situation in which we have found ourselves today. Cathy Jamieson has brought a great deal to her role as minister. Her experience in social work is key to the way in which the Executive may now be able to address issues that the debate has raised. I hope that the debate is the first step on the long road towards the rejuvenation of the profession in Scotland.

The social work profession is essential. We have had little opportunity to deal with the detail of the motion, for obvious reasons. However, I want to say that without the social work profession, we would have grave problems across Scotland.

In the course of my duties as a member of the Scottish Parliament, I often meet people who have problems with their relationship with social workers. Those problems are not about individual contact, but about the lack of individual contact, because the profession cannot cope with the demands that are placed on it.

I am keen to ensure that we do not end today's debate in the classic position where Labour members accuse Conservative or perhaps SNP members of being more interested in parliamentary procedure than in the people about whom we should be most concerned in relation to the debate. The Conservatives are genuinely concerned about social work in Scotland and the effects of any deficiencies in the profession as a result of training issues. We must remember that the situation in respect of the social care work force is our first priority.

What happened today was largely a result of management deficiencies. However, the problem is not just about what happened today. There has been some confusion for several days, provoked by the publication of the motion. As business manager in the Conservative group, I found it hard to get a handle on the debate and to decide who in my party should deal with it. Half the Conservative group has been primed to open the debate at various times, including me—I have the speech here.

It is important that we do not let the issue pass. I was interested in what Robert Brown said; I, too, would be keen to have another debate on social work at an early opportunity. We might not want to repeat the debate that was planned for today, but perhaps we could ensure that we keep to the issues that were to be covered according to the parliamentary agenda. I would be delighted to support in the business bureau any attempt by the Executive to bring forward an early debate to cover those priorities.

The Conservative party will take no position on the motion. We hope at an early opportunity to be able to express our support for a motion about which we have slightly more information.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 4:47 pm, 18th April 2002

I begin by praising two speeches, although it might not help the members to be praised by me. Trish Godman's speech was reasoned, passionate about the work that she did and still believes in and passionate about the profession of which she was a member. I also praise the speech of Irene McGugan, who, like Trish Godman, was a professional social worker. I wish that I could extend that praise to the third professional social worker who spoke, but unfortunately I cannot, because—alas—Scott Barrie's blind loyalty to new Labour overcame his loyalty to his profession. I would also like to be able to praise Sylvia Jackson's speech, but she seemed to think that she was in an academic seminar, rather than in a legislative forum. We are not here to speculate; we are here to consider proposals and to debate them. The problem this afternoon is that we do not have proposals to debate.

I have heard the smear—Alex Johnstone referred to it, we heard it from Scott Barrie and the minister, and others will repeat it—that in arguing about what has taken place we are talking down social workers or criticising the profession. That is not true. We are strongly committed to the social care work force and to getting the issues that are the subject of today's debate right. The person who has damaged social work in Scotland this afternoon is the Minister for Education and Young People—of that there is no doubt. This afternoon, instead of providing a document to discuss or a set of proposals that might be improved by genuine debate, she showed contempt for the chamber and the parliamentary process.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

No. This is not Stalinist Russia; this is the new Scottish democracy. This afternoon, the principles of the CSG were set at naught. The Labour party does not like to hear such things, because it regards itself as the guardian of Scottish democracy. However, by its actions this afternoon, Labour has shown that it is the party that is destroying Scottish democracy.

We cannot have a debate without a document. Robert Brown is right—we cannot have a debate without the Executive trying to help the whole chamber to understand what its proposals are. The point of the Parliament is to scrutinise the work of the Executive and, if possible, to improve the actions of the Executive. The point is not to act, as so many Labour members do, as mere rubber stamps for whatever the minister wishes to do or say, but that is what we have seen this afternoon. I believe that what has happened is a disgrace to the chamber and damaging to social work and to Scotland.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

It is not outrageous. It is what has taken place this afternoon. The minister might not like it, but it is what has taken place.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I invite Mr Russell to withdraw his comments about my being a disgrace to social work. I worked for more than 20 years in the social work profession. Today, I have brought forward an action plan that includes a number of items that many in the social work profession have asked for over many years. I invite Mr Russell to comment on the SNP's proposals and to say how he would assist the process of pursuing a better social care work force.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I have always found that, when the Labour party is in real trouble, it asks what our proposals are. The reality is that the minister's actions today have damaged social work because she has created an unnecessary debate.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Mr Russell, the debate is becoming singularly ill tempered. Can we try to draw it to a reasonably peaceful conclusion?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

In deference to the Presiding Officer, I shall move on to the question of where we go from here. Alex Johnstone raised the issue when he summed up. The minister should return to the chamber at a suitable time—after considerably more work has been done—and produce a document to distribute to members. Perhaps that could go through the committee system. At the end of that process, let us have an informed debate. That is what the Parliament is here to do.

The more one looks at the document, the less there is in it. Any document that has—

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I have been absent for most of the debate but I have a feeling of déjà vu, because the debate is at exactly the same place as it was when I left the chamber.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

If Patricia Ferguson had stayed, she might have learned something.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Presiding Officer, I am not going to react to the jibes that are coming from some Opposition members. The minister made clear the position about the document that was distributed to the other parties. The fact that Mr Russell lost a vote on a spurious motion cannot continue to be the subject of argument in the chamber.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I have already indicated that the debate has become singularly ill tempered. I am anxious to draw it to a reasonably peaceable conclusion. Mr Russell, you have about 30 seconds.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am sorry that the Minister for Parliamentary Business regards votes in the chamber as spurious. That proves what I have said throughout my speech. The Labour Administration cares little for democracy. It cares less for the Parliament. It does not even care for its partners, the Liberal Democrats, who did not get to see the document. The SNP will press its amendment and abstain on the motion.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 4:53 pm, 18th April 2002

One of the benefits of having some loss of hearing in one ear is that I have missed some of the rubbish that has been shouted. I note the Presiding Officer's aspiration to have the debate come to a peaceful conclusion. I shall do my usual best to facilitate that.

This afternoon's debate has been completely bizarre and disappointing. A useful opportunity for the Parliament to unite in support of a profession that is often overlooked has been squandered and turned into a petty squabble about nothing. The minister could have chosen not to issue anything and we could have concentrated on the motion. She could have made all the announcements that she made and they would have been taken up during the debate and responded to. There would have been no criticism whatever.

Because of her deep and passionate commitment to social work, however, the minister used some initiative. She wanted the debate to be an opportunity to put social work on the agenda. She decided to encapsulate what she was going to say in the debate ahead of time in a document to be given to the Opposition and to all members, so that they would know in advance what she was going to say and so that they could participate more fully in the debate. It is an absolute disgrace that Opposition members have turned the minister's good intention into such a squalid debate. I had hoped that we could have taken forward many of the positive things that Cathy Jamieson spoke about today.

Because of lack of time, I will quickly address some of the specific points that were made. Irene McGugan said that the University of Edinburgh was being forced to close its degree course because of a fall in the number of applicants. The number of passes in the diploma for social work has not decreased in Scotland over the past few years. In 1997-98, there were 368 passes; in 2000-01, there were 402. She also said that academic institutions need to know by June, and not December, what direction social work training will be taking in order to provide courses by 2004. That is not the case according to the Scottish Social Services Council, which has said that November and December are the key dates.

Irene McGugan also said that she hoped that joint ministerial meetings and project groups would take account of the generic-specialism argument. The answer is that they will. Clearly, that issue is a major concern for many in the chamber and for many in the profession, and it will be examined. We realise the importance of wide-ranging, generic preparation for social workers before they enter the profession, but we also recognise that social workers need to be trained for the many complex issues that they face. That has to be reflected in any good-quality training.

In a most peculiar speech, Ben Wallace talked about pay issues and low-paid staff, but spent more time saying that Army officers are low paid compared with local government staff—he spent more time pleading the case of Army officers than the case of those about whom he professed to be talking.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

No thank you.

The concerns that Ben Wallace raised about registration and the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care are not for this debate, but if there are problems with the process, he should write to the commission. If he fails to get an adequate response, he should write to me and we will address the matter. However, this is not the debate for those questions.

Trish Godman asked about the descriptions of social services and social work. The Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001 refers to "social service workers". Trish Godman is absolutely right: social workers and the social work profession are fundamental to the delivery of services in Scotland, but social services in Scotland are provided by professionally trained social work staff and by many social care staff, who also have to be considered in the wider debate that we need to develop.

Ian Jenkins said that training should be accessible and available throughout Scotland. The Open University doubled its intake to the social work qualifying course this year. In addition, access, including e-learning, will be examined, as points 3 and 11 of the action plan state.

Sylvia Jackson raised a number of points about the introduction of the social work honours degree in England in 2003. Only some English universities will manage to introduce such a course in 2003; most will only achieve it in 2004, along with universities in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. She also made a valid point about postgraduate social work students being able to access bursaries when undergraduate students cannot. We intend to consider that issue as a priority under point 11 of the action plan.

Scott Barrie made a positive contribution and tried to bring us back to the subject of the debate. I congratulate Mike Russell on being consistent, if nothing else. His speech was typically spiteful and did nothing to advance anything.

Despite some Opposition members' histrionics and their lack of understanding of social work, the Executive is committed to advancing the social work profession and social care in Scotland. Cathy Jamieson is to be commended for her personal commitment, understanding and enthusiasm. Despite the lack of commitment from many members, she and the rest of the Executive will consider the issues further so that progress is made to support a valuable profession whose work is often not properly recognised in our society.