Tax avoidance specialists handed teaching role on social work MA course

Of the five week intensive training social work, students (Frontline re-brands them as ‘participants’) are treated to a three days of ‘bespoke’ sessions on ‘key leadership concepts’ delivered by Deloitte’s – a global accountancy firm. ‘The intensive, interactive programme introduces a number of key leadership concepts. It also provides practical training in how to deconstruct complex issues and drive forward appropriate solutions’ says Frontline.

There may be several reasons for this.  

First, it begins ostensibly with an argument ‘to bring about change with families’, drawing on recognised methods in social work and psychology around ‘motivational interviewing’ and the use of the social worker’s relationship in promoting change.  Frontline purports to have an exclusive and narrow focus on children and parents in families where children are deemed at risk, the subject of much legitimate criticism (see for example http://bit.ly/Wt5RQq ).  Arguably these methods and skills are transferable to some extent so that Frontline trained participants could potentially work with other client groups.

Secondly, it is a response to a barrage of un-inhibited criticism ranging from Ofsted’s attack dog Sir Michael Wilshaw who described Directors of social work as ‘manifestly and palpably weak’ to professor Julian Le Grand who found that the central problems in ‘failing’ authorities like Birmingham included ‘a history of poor senior leadership’.

Thirdly, and more importantly, Frontline’s vision is to produce a new cadre of future social work leaders, plainly promoted on their website, not only in regard to supervising practitioners but as a route into senior management and also what it fascinatingly calls ‘leadership in broader society’ http://bit.ly/1pDqzE5. Others have said this vision is as much about producing leaders who will be moved into management jobs in the new privatised services: this brings me back to the role of Deloitte.

So who are Deloitte? Deloitte is part of the ‘big four’ accountancy firms along with EY, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Deloitte have been involved in the adult care business for many years and increasingly so in children’s services.  More recently they have had a higher profile and invited into the government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme advising on such things as what makes social work teams successful http://bit.ly/1tUs72S (as if this is anything new).  Now they have a role in teaching social workers.

Deloitte’s may be a successful multi-billion company but this does not mean that their role should be hidden from scrutiny.  Hiding companies from scrutiny is one of Deloitte’s specialisms. A recent report by Tax Research UK showed that Deloitte, along with the EY, KPMG and PWC, are key to the creation of offshore ‘secrecy spaces’ http://bit.ly/WtgDWG.  As we know the impact of privatised welfare services has led to a democratic deficit and the fact that private companies are shielded from public scrutiny (see for example http://bit.ly/1xsVc9s ). The new cadre of frontline social workers are therefore being invited to step into the neo-liberal world of financial accounting sophistry equipped with what Pierre Bourdieu would call the right social and cultural capital – in this case sophisticated business acumen taught by world experts.
Deloitte’s are also specialists in tax avoidance strategies and have been accused of advising mutli-billion dollar companies how to avoid paying tax when entering markets in countries that can least afford to be without tax revenue.  A recent report by Action Aid http://bit.ly/1BbL7wj showed how Deloitte advised companies doing business in Mozambique to run their company from Mauritius to avoid paying tax http://bit.ly/1Amb2iw.

Is this too much of coincidence or a key part of the Frontline vision that dovetails neatly into coalition government’s policy?  Are we really to believe that Deloitte, along with Frontline’s hedge funds sponsors Ark and the Boston Consulting Group (see http://bit.ly/1tCpQdW for background) do not have ulterior motives?  It is a conflict of interest that clearly does not trouble Frontline’s supporters but about which we have a right to ask questions.

Simon Cardy is a registered social worker and trade union activist in the West Midlands.

Twitter @simoncardy

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