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The Scottish Social Services Council - which was established by an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 2001 - risks having its role undermined by a proposed European directive, which has been the subject of months of controversial debate in the European Parliament. The SSSC oversees standards of social care in Scotland. It also maintains registers of social workers and other frontline personnel involved in the care of children, older people and other vulnerable groups.
The "Services Directive", as originally drafted by the EU Commission, sought to open up Europe's markets in services - including those of a social care nature. Under the proposals, people working in a particular service sector would be regulated by their home country's authorities - not the authorities where the work is carried out. This could potentially lead to social carers from other countries working in Scotland but outwith the control of the SSSC.
This has raised fears of a "race to the bottom" whereby companies will deliberately locate in member states with the lowest regulatory standards, and also whereby member states may themselves compete with one another to lower standards in order to attract head offices.
The "policing" of service providers would be the responsibility of the home country's agencies/authorities. Clearly this has practical problems: how can a standards body in Estonia monitor an Estonian worker in Scotland? - or indeed how could the Scottish Social Services Council realistically monitor a Scottish social carer who goes to Estonia?
The Scottish Social Services Council plays a vital role in upholding social work and social care standards. It was set up by the Scottish Parliament in recognition of the fact that social service workers, who often work with the most vulnerable members of society, must adhere to key principles. The Council also helps minimise the risk of inappropriate people taking up positions of considerable responsibility.
Under the EU services proposals, service providers would be subject only to the national provisions of their home country. Whilst other countries will have their own provisions for monitoring social care workers, the practicalities of them supervising their nationals who decide to operate in Scotland are fraught with danger. The simplest solution therefore is to maintain the current position whereby the SSSC is the watchdog for all social carers in Scotland, regardless of nationality.
The European Parliament has the opportunity to exclude social services from the scope of the proposed directive. Numerous individuals and bodies have been in touch with me to express their concerns on this issue, and I in turn will be urging other MEPs to vote for SNP group amendments which would take social services out of the text completely.