§ 14. Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West)
What action he is taking to promote high standards in social work; and if he will make a statement. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Hutton)
We shall promote high and improved standards for all social care staff. We have already announced our proposals to create a general social care council. Before that, we aim to reshape the social work training system and launch a new post-qualifying award in child care later this year. This summer, our new training strategy will allow us to start raising qualification levels in the whole social care work force.
§ Mr. Thomas
Does my hon. Friend agree that a key to high standards in social work is a trained work force? Is he aware that some 80 per cent. of the social care work force do not have any qualifications? Is that a priority for him, and what action is he taking to improve the situation?
§ Mr. Hutton
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. It is unacceptable to us—and, I am sure, to everyone in the House—that such an important group of key workers remain largely unqualified. Some of the measures that I have already announced will help to raise the qualification levels in the social care work force, but my hon. Friend may be particularly interested in the steps that we are taking to introduce a new national vocational qualification level 3 award for people working in residential child care settings. It is our priority to improve the qualification levels of all the social care work force, and the programmes that we have set in train will achieve that.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
Does the Minister recall the recent letter that he sent to Worcestershire county council congratulating it on the high priority that it attaches to a high standard of social work and social services? Does he understand that that demands an inflation-busting increase in council tax of 9.9 per cent? To avoid any possible charge of hypocrisy, will he make representations to his right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister in order that the county council is not penalised for protecting social services and social work, to which the Minister says he attaches such importance?
§ Mr. Hutton
The local government settlement was a fair one for all authorities. I have recently been to Worcester to see at first hand some of the outstanding and excellent social care schemes that the county council is organising. I pay tribute to the staff there for that. I am 857 sure that the hon. Gentleman would join me in welcoming the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that a new hospital costing more than £100 million will be constructed in Worcester, which is good news. It is something, I am afraid, that his Administration never quite got round to doing.