Mr Shukin Singh
(as amended at the Final Hearing):
Whilst employed as a Social Worker by Birmingham City Council, you:
1. Provided work to Paramount Care Solutions by allowing the following assessments to be directed to PCS in or around May 2015:
i. Family A;
ii. Family B;
iii. Family C;
iv. Family D;
v. Family E.
2. Reallocated the following assessments to PCS from Social Work Choices (SWC) without the appropriate approval and/or authorisation to do so:
i. Family F;
ii. Family G;
iii. Family H;
iv. Family I;
v. Family J;
vi. Family K;
vii. Family L;
viii. Family M;
ix. Family N.
3. Did not make a declaration of a conflict of interest to Birmingham City Council in relation to the family connection you had with PCS.
4. Did not tell colleagues about your intention to allocate work to PCS.
5. Your actions described in particulars 1, 2, 3 and 4 were dishonest.
6. Your actions described in particulars 1 – 5 amount to misconduct.
7. By reason of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. The Panel was made aware that written notice of these proceedings had been posted to the Registrant by first class post on 13 June 2017 to his registered address. It was also emailed to his registered email address on the same date. An email of 14 June 2017 from the Registrant to the HCPC declared that he was going to attend the hearing. This was obviously in response to the Notice of Hearing sent the day before. The Panel determined that the notice had been properly served, in accordance with the relevant Rules.
Proceeding in the Registrant’s absence
2. The Panel heard Mr Dite’s submissions on proceeding in the absence of the Registrant. It accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and paid due regard to the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Proceeding in the Absence of the Registrant’ (22 March 2017).
3. The Registrant had written in his response to the pre-hearing information form of 13 June 2017 that, at that stage, he planned to attend this hearing and be represented and that he would be available from ‘15 November onwards’. However, the Panel was informed that there has been no communication from him since. The Panel waited until 10.50am on 20 November 2017 for his attendance, but he failed to appear. Three witnesses for the HCPC would be attending to give evidence. The Panel’s view was that the Registrant had deliberately disengaged from the process. It was clear to the Panel that the Registrant had voluntarily absented himself and that there would be no point in directing an adjournment. In these circumstances, the Panel’s view is that, in the interests of justice, this case should proceed in the absence of the Registrant.
4. On the second morning of the hearing (21 November 2017), the Panel was informed that the Registrant had sent an email to the HCPC at 5.32am on 20 November 2017. Unfortunately, due to a system error, this had not been sent to the Hearings Officer until the evening. The email stated that “I will not be able to attend the hearing today due to ill health”. There was no medical evidence submitted in support of this assertion, nor any indication of when the Registrant would be fit to attend. The Registrant did not request an adjournment. On receipt of this information, and after taking legal advice, the Panel declared that it did not alter the decision it had already reached.
Application to amend the Allegation
5. On 25 January 2017 a letter was sent to the Registrant’s registered address giving him due notice of an application to be made by the HCPC to make certain amendments to the Allegation. The stated purpose was to simplify and clarify the particulars against the Registrant. The Panel accepted the submission of Mr Dite that the essence of the Allegation remained unchanged and, consequently, granted the application in the interests of both parties.
Application for part of the proceedings to be heard in Private
6. During the course of cross examination by a member of the Panel of MG on 21 November 2017, certain answers were given which touched upon her personal circumstances. The Panel accepted the submission of Mr Dite that these matters, few though they were, should be heard in private.
7. The Registrant, a Social Worker, started his employment with Birmingham City Council (BCC) on 1 December 2008. He was a Senior Practitioner within the People Directorate, which is part of the Children Services Division for Adoption and Fostering. During the relevant period in 2015, he had become a Senior Practitioner in the Special Guardianship Orders and Connected Persons Assessment Service (also known as the ‘Assessment Team’). The Assessment Team was supported by the Professional Support Service (PSS).
8. In his role the Registrant was responsible for the commissioning of External Special Guardianship Order Assessments (or simply ‘External Assessments’). These are court orders which permanently place a child into the care of someone familiar with that child, such as a family member or close friend, who is thereby granted parental responsibility for the child until aged 18. Before such an order is made, an assessment takes place which involves the writing of a detailed report on a potential guardian by an external Social Worker. The process for BCC commissioning these external assessments involves the completion by an Area Social Worker responsible for a particular child of a schedule 4 assessment which would detail the reasons why a special guardianship order was being sought.
9. The assessment team then had a duty to allocate the external assessment to a particular independent social worker (ISW) or agency for completion. This was primarily the Registrant’s responsibility, who would prepare a Service Agreement which would be sent to the external social work agency for its signature. An Allocation Request Form would also be sent to the PSS.
10. The Registrant was responsible for maintaining a spreadsheet detailing these external assessments and related information including the date by which the completed report was due. One of the approved agencies used by BCC for the preparation of assessment reports was Social Work Choices (SWC).
11. There was also a process by which independent assessors or agencies could be procured to undertake external assessments via the council’s ‘Find it in Birmingham’ procurement facility. In December 2014 the Registrant had been sent an email which gave details of this process. It was an important part of the Council’s policy that procurement guidelines had to be adhered to.
12. In May 2015, a PSS team member noticed within the paperwork which related to external assessments that there were references to ‘Paramount Care Solutions’ (PCS). PCS was not an approved agency for the conduct of external assessments.
13. Later enquiries revealed that PCS had been incorporated on 29 August 2014 and its sole director and sole shareholder was Mr KV, the Registrant’s son. It is alleged by the HCPC that, in May 2015, the Registrant allocated five separate external assessments to PCS (Particular 1).
14. Furthermore, the Registrant allegedly reallocated a total of 9 assessments from SWC to PCS without having obtained appropriate approval and/or authorisation (Particular 2).
15. The Registrant had allegedly not declared this conflict of interest, in contravention of the Council’s code of conduct (Particular 3) nor did he tell colleagues of his intention to allocate work to PCS (Particular 4). It is the HCPC’s case that in allocating and reallocating these external assessments to PCS without having declared a conflict of interest, the Registrant was acting dishonestly (Particular 5).
16. On 25 May 2015, FS, Principal Auditor within the Corporate Fraud Team at BCC, started an investigation into the Registrant’s activities. The Registrant was suspended on 27 May 2015.
17. The investigation included a formal interview with the Registrant on 23 October 2015. In one of his answers, the Registrant acknowledged that he was aware that his son was the director of PCS, although he claimed that he wasn’t aware of his son’s involvement until late April/early May 2015.
18. Half way through this interview the Registrant terminated it, stating he did not feel well. A further interview was arranged to take place on 20 November 2015, but, 10 days prior to this date, the Registrant told FS that he was not going to attend.
19. The contents of a letter to the HCPC from the Registrant, dated 20 September 2016, included an acceptance by him that he had initially allocated five assessments to PCS (Particular 1). He added, though, that, as soon as he was told by his line manager that the assessments for Families A to E were not to be allocated to PCS, ‘all of the paper work for the assessments was returned and works were halted immediately’.
20. In that same letter, the Registrant strongly denied that either he or anyone at BCC had ever reallocated work from SWC to PCS (Particular 2). All the work involving Families F – N, he maintained, was completed and invoiced by SWC.
21. The Registrant accepted, again in that same letter, ‘full responsibility’ that he did not declare ‘Conflict of Interest…I made no personal gains’.
Decision on Facts
22. The Panel heard evidence from three witnesses called by the HCPC. They were:
• FS, Principal Auditor within the Corporate Fraud Team of BCC, a position she had held since 1 October 2012. She had ownership of the investigation, was forthright, consistent and clear as to the limits of her knowledge. Her investigation of the particular 1 matters was thorough.
• JC, Professional Support Service Team Leader at BCC since April 2007. She was open and prepared to recognise what was outside the scope of her knowledge.
• MG, Assistant Head of Service for Fostering at BCC, who was the Registrant’s line manager from April 2015. Her knowledge of detail was a little limited but she had good oversight of procedures and working arrangements.
23. The Panel found them all to be honest, credible and reliable witnesses. Much of their testimony was backed up by the documents within the exhibits bundle.
24. The Panel has considered all of the oral and documentary evidence placed before it. It has also paid due regard to the material submitted by the Registrant, even though it does not strictly come within the category of evidence. It is mindful of the submissions of Mr Dite and has accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
25. The Panel has drawn no adverse conclusions from the absence of the Registrant at this hearing. In relation to all relevant areas of disputed fact, the Panel has reminded itself that the burden of proof rests throughout on the HCPC and that the required standard is the civil one – on the balance of probabilities.
26. The Panel was also conscious of the fact that some of the evidence adduced by the HCPC was hearsay and it exercised appropriate caution in its approach to this.
27. Looking at the particulars one by one, the Panel has determined as follows.
28. In his representations, the Registrant accepted that he had ‘initially allocated five assessments to PCS’. In her evidence, FS confirmed this and the exhibits bundle contained documents to demonstrate that the Registrant had specified named assessors in relation to all five of the particularised families as being people who worked for PCS. The Service Agreements in all five cases were signed by PCS.
The Panel found particular 1 proved in its entirety.
29. On 11 May 2015 the Registrant emailed SWC to say he ‘will reallocate’ all these assessments and asked them to ensure that all the documents in respect of them were safely destroyed. This was a concrete, active instruction from the Registrant which therefore went beyond a vague possibility of reallocation.
30. On 15 May 2015 the Registrant sent an email requesting permission to approach ISW’s whom BCC had used before in order to allocate assessments to them. Permission was granted for allocations to independent assessors whom the Council had used before.
31. On 26 May 2015 the Registrant emailed the commissioning team for advice on how to set up an agency to be used for this purpose. That same day, the Registrant, when specifically asked, provided the name of the agency as PCS.
32. The above correspondence demonstrated an intention by the Registrant to reallocate assessments. To that end he had asked the existing contractor, SWC, to destroy the relevant paperwork, he had sought permission from senior management to allocate the SGO assessments to ISW’s and he had asked for advice from the commissioning team on how to get PCS set up on the system.
33. At around the same time the Registrant was arranging for assessments to be directed to PCS (as found proved at particular 1). All this activity of the Registrant was being kept from the other members of the team. The reports in the cases referred to at particular 2 were similarly completed by PCS.
34. On all of the evidence the Panel has seen and heard, no authority for the Registrant to instruct PCS has emerged. It was an agency that was not vetted or included on the list of approved suppliers. MG declared that, had she known that the Registrant was intending to use PCS, she would never have agreed to it.
35. The Panel was satisfied that the Registrant was well aware of the proper procedures to be adopted and that he deliberately ignored them.
36. Although the paperwork contains no authorisation forms for this work to be done by PCS nor any signed agreements to that effect, the Panel finds, on the balance of probabilities, that the entirety of this particular is proved. This includes particular iii (Family H). Although there is no reference to this family in the spreadsheet of reallocated cases, the final report on Family H was nevertheless eventually received from PCS and, thus, the reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that the Registrant had reallocated this assessment as well.
37. In the interview conducted by FS with the Registrant on 23 October 2015, he accepted that he had not made a declaration of a potential conflict of interest. In his later representations to the HCPC he stated ‘I accept full responsibility that I did not declare Conflict of Interest (sic)’. The evidence of FS was to the effect that he had told nobody at BCC, not even informally, about the family connection he had with PCS.
This particular is found proved.
38. In an email of 26 May 2015 to RM (in the commissioning team), the Registrant made mention of the name of the agency to which he had allocated work as PCS. On that same date the Registrant told JC about the existence of PCS which he claimed had been formed from ex-assessors from Social Work Choices. This was one day before the Registrant’s suspension from work. Until then all the evidence was to the effect that he had never mentioned to any of his colleagues at BCC that he had an intention to allocate assessments to PCS. This particular is found proved.
39. In his interview of 23 October 2015, the Registrant acknowledged that he knew his son was involved as the director of PCS. Although he claimed that he wasn’t aware of this until late April/early May 2015, the Panel rejected this claim because FS had found emails from the Registrant naming his son and his connection with PCS several months prior to these dates. The Registrant belatedly enquired how he could get PCS authorised, thereby demonstrating that he knew that it was an agency neither vetted nor approved. As a Social Worker of over 30 years’ experience, the Panel found that he must have known about the Declaration of Interest policy, a matter that all three witnesses confirmed was well known within BCC. The Registrant ignored the Declaration of Interest procedures and the required commissioning procedures. He passed work to his son’s company and kept his colleagues in the dark about this. The situation at the time was not a ‘fire-fighting’ one, as the Registrant has suggested in his representations, as the approved agencies had capacity to undertake additional assessments. There was therefore no need for the Registrant to do anything other than allocate work to approved agencies. Another particular example of his dishonesty was his claim that a reallocation of the assessment in relation to Family B had been directed by the court, when the evidence showed otherwise. The Panel concluded that the conduct of the Registrant was dishonest. It determined this by applying the standards of ordinary, decent people.
This particular is found proved.
Decision on Grounds
40. Whether or not the facts found proved amount to misconduct is a matter for the professional judgment of the Panel. Mr Dite submitted to the Panel that, in the event of the facts being found proved, the matters amount to serious misconduct. He contended that there were breaches of the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics as a whole, but in particular:
• Standard 3 (You must keep high standards of personal conduct)
• Standard 13 (You must behave with honesty and integrity and make sure that your behaviour does not damage the public’s confidence in you or your profession).
41. Mr Dite added that the facts, if found proved, amounted to a breach of the HCPC Standards of proficiency for Social Workers, in particular:
• Standard 3.1 (Understand the need to maintain high standards of personal and professional conduct).
42. Mr Dite submitted that the Registrant’s behaviour constituted a serious falling short of what would be proper in the circumstances and the Registrant, in acting with such dishonesty had breached one of the fundamental tenets of the profession.
43. In the judgment of the Panel, this case is centred upon the dishonest actions of a Registrant who, without the knowledge of any of his colleagues at BCC, allocated, in an unauthorised way, work in the form of assessments to a company controlled by his son. In so doing, he had demonstrated a clear conflict of interest.
44. The Panel considered the actual and potential consequences of the Registrant’s actions. Court decisions in SGO cases are substantially influenced by the reports written by the SGO assessors. Anything which could, at any stage, call into question the integrity of the assessment could potentially jeopardise the order and therefore have a serious detrimental impact on the child, his/her family and/or the applicant for the SGO. There was evidence from MG that there was a significant delay in the Council receiving the reports in the cases which form particular 2 and the Council had to go to court to compel their release by PCS. This caused anxiety to the families involved and could have compromised the hoped-for outcome for the children. Furthermore, MG and FS gave evidence that the use of an un-vetted agency was ‘to the detriment of the families and children’ and potentially could have brought the Council into disrepute.
45. Accordingly, the Panel’s view is that this represents a serious falling short of standards 3 and 13 of the HCPC Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, and of standards 2 (particularly 2.3 and 2.5) and 3.1 of the HCPC Standards of proficiency.
46. The Panel’s view therefore, is that the allegation of misconduct is well founded.
Decision on Impairment
47. Again, the question as to whether or not a Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired is a matter for the professional judgment of the Panel, after consideration of all of the circumstances of the case. The Panel took due notice of the submissions of Mr Dite and the HCPTS Practice Note on ‘Finding that Fitness to Practise is impaired’.
48. In reaching its determination, the Panel considered the personal component and, in so doing, amongst other matters, reminded itself of the contents of the Registrant’s written representations. Although, within them, the Registrant accepted a conflict of interest, he strongly denied the allegation contained within particular 2. Nor did he ever concede that his actions had been dishonest. He expressed some remorse but the Panel was not persuaded it was genuine. He displayed no insight, and the main body of his written representations refers to the failings of others, with no acceptance of his own responsibility. These and other factors have persuaded the Panel that there exists a real risk of repetition and that the clear dishonesty displayed by the Registrant shows that there is little evidence of remediation here. The Registrant, in the view of the Panel, has repeatedly deceived his colleagues, in particular his line manager at the time, by dishonestly allocating work to his son’s company. Once the investigation by BCC had started to reveal these failings, the Registrant still did his best to mislead others.
49. As far as the public component is concerned, the Panel bears in mind the need to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour so as to maintain public confidence in the profession. To fail to find that the misconduct of the Registrant amounts to current impairment would, in the judgement of the Panel, undermine confidence in the profession and the regulatory process.
50. The Panel therefore concludes that the fitness to practise of this Registrant is currently impaired.
Decision on Sanction
51. The Panel heard submissions from Mr Dite and paid careful regard to them and to the HCPTS’s Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). It also heeded the advice of the Legal Assessor that it should apply the principle of proportionality, weighing the interests of the public with those of the practitioner.
52. In coming to its decision on sanction, the Panel took into account the following mitigating and aggravating features in this case:
• The Registrant’s partial engagement with the BCC investigation and the HCPC proceedings.
• The Registrant’s limited admissions to particulars 1 and 3.
• The lack of any evidence of any previous adverse regulatory findings against him.
• An otherwise lengthy (32 years) and unblemished career and the testimonial from his line manager that, until his misconduct started, he had been a valued member of staff.
• The misconduct involved a breach of trust and repeated acts of serious dishonesty.
• The Registrant has not acknowledged much of his wrongdoing nor expressed any genuine remorse.
• The effect of his conduct upon his line manager has, for the first time in her career, led her into a state of mistrusting others.
• The potential impact on others, including the SGO assessors and the court’s confidence in their reports and in BCC.
• The Registrant’s actions could have brought his employers into disrepute.
• The potentially grave consequences of his actions which might have undermined the integrity of the reports and therefore jeopardised the placements of the children that were the subject matter of the assessments and caused distress to all involved including their families and SGO applicants.
• The anxiety caused to their families and SGO applicants attributable to the delay in the Council’s receipt of the reports from the reallocated assessments.
• The Registrant’s actions were undertaken for his own family’s benefit.
• The Registrant has not engaged since June 2017 with these regulatory proceedings, except very recently when he said he was not attending the hearing.
53. The Panel considered that the Registrant had demonstrated very little insight. There was no evidence of any remedial action and the Panel has previously found there is a risk of repetition.
54. It would clearly be inappropriate to conclude this case by taking no further action or by referring it for mediation, nor would it be appropriate to impose a Caution Order. None of these courses would serve to protect service users or maintain the standing of the profession.
55. The Panel has no information about the Registrant’s current employment, if any. The ISP indicates that the imposition of a Conditions of Practice Order is unlikely to be appropriate in circumstances where the Registrant lacks insight, where there are serious persistent failings and in cases which involve dishonesty and a breach of trust. In any event a Conditions of Practice Order would be unable to address the risk of repetition in a case of this nature. In this context the Panel took account of the contents of paragraph 34 of the ISP. Such a course would also fail adequately to reflect the seriousness of the Registrant’s behaviour.
56. The Panel reminded itself of that part of the ISP which refers to the imposition of a Suspension Order. This is a sanction which, in the view of the Panel, would be inappropriate because, apart from anything else, the Panel does not take the view that the misconduct found proved is unlikely to be repeated. The Registrant’s conduct was extremely serious, with potentially very serious consequences for children and families.
57. Striking off is a sanction of last resort for serious, deliberate or reckless acts such as dishonesty. Striking off should be used where there is no other way to protect the public, for example, where there is a lack of insight, continuing problems or denial. Striking off may also be appropriate where the nature and gravity of the allegation are such that any lesser sanction would lack deterrent effect or undermine confidence in the profession concerned and the regulatory process. It is the Panel’s view that the nature and gravity of the Registrant’s misconduct in this case are, indeed, such that any lesser sanction than a Striking Off Order would fail to maintain public confidence in the profession and would fail to declare and uphold proper standards. Through his misconduct in this case, the Registrant has demonstrated a lack of integrity which renders him unfit to be a Social Worker.
Application for an Interim Suspension Order in the absence of the Registrant
Mr Dite made an application for an Interim Suspension Order to be imposed upon the Registrant for a period of 18 months and that it was appropriate and fair for this application to be made in the absence of the Registrant.
The Panel reminded itself that the Notice sent to the Registrant dated 13 June 2017 warned him that such an application might be made in the event of certain orders being imposed including that of a Strike Off Order. The case has proceeded on the bases that good service has been shown. The Same reasons provided by the Panel in paragraphs 2 – 4 above still have application in relation to proceeding in the absence of the Registrant. It is fair and in the public interest for matters to proceed expeditiously, albeit in the absence of the Registrant.
As far as the application to impose an Interim Suspension Order is concerned, the Panel considers that, in the light of its findings of misconduct, this is necessary in order to protect the public and is also in the wider public interest. This is imposed for a period of 18 months.
The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months.
Order: The Registrar is directed to strike the name of Mr Shukin Singh from the Register on the date this order comes into effect.
The order imposed today will apply from 20 December 2017.
Right of Appeal:
You may appeal to the High Court in England and Wales the Panel’s decision and the order it has made against you.
Under Articles 30(10) and 38 of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, any appeal must be made to the court not more than 28 days after the date when this notice is served on you.
History of Hearings for Mr Shukin Singh
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|20/11/2017||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Struck off|