Denise Platt, the shadow chairperson of the Commission
for Social Care Inspection, spoke to Community Care’s news
editor Lauren Revans about her new role and the
government’s key social care policies.
Denise Platt: Sorry I’m late. I thought it
was only right to meet in the new office of the Commission for
Social Care Inspection, not at the Department of Health. We only go
there when we need to do battle.
Lauren Revans: How are you going to make sure that the
CSCI is more than the sum of its parts?
DP: If you look at its legislation, you find
out that it makes it more than the sum of its parts and gives it
new responsibilities and a wider scope, and much more opportunity
to look at social services in a very broad way. So the legislation
actually gives it the framework. For example, the first line of the
legislation gives us the duty to improve both local authority
social services and regulated services. We have a new
responsibility where we can comment on research, we can commission
research, we can undertake value for money studies. We can do a
whole range of activities which none of the individual bodies could
do. And there’s the added advantage that we can bring all
those things together. It will look very different. Our
organisations will be new. It won’t look like a bolted on
structure. It will be different.
LR: How are they going to ensure that the identity of
social care and social work isn’t lost as, on the ground,
traditional social services departments get dismantled and
restructuring gathers pace?
DP: Ourselves, we see the commission being a
very strong voice for social care because we will know what social
care is capable of achieving, we will know what resources are
deployed across social care, we will have an interest in the
service user, we will be talking to service users. We don’t
just intend to be a silent organisation. We will have things to say
about the services users receive and, in some way, be a voice for
them as well. So we’re not going to sit there and wait to be
LR: But how will that protect the identity of social
DP: I don’t think any national
organisation can protect the identity of social workers. It is down
to social workers, and the organisations that employ them also have
a responsibility to ensure that social workers are supported, that
their professional development is supported. We as national
organisations can underpin that, but we can’t do it on behalf
of. And it’s a nonsense to expect national organisations to
The silence of social workers speaking up on behalf of social
workers is deafening. And that’s what makes social care
vulnerable, not what national organisations do. I mean nurses are
not exactly silent. Doctors are not silent. Doctors don’t
rely on the Commission of Health Audit and Inspection to speak on
behalf of health. Nurses don’t rely on them to speak on
behalf of health. They speak on behalf of themselves. And together
they are a very powerful coalition.
LR: A few months ago, we were told by the Department of
Health that Ofsted was definitely not going to be given
responsibility for the inspection of children’s services. But
now Ofsted’s lead role has been confirmed in the
children’s green paper. What do you say to people who are
concerned about education targets and values taking precedence over
social work targets and values?
DP: Ofsted is taking the lead role in
developing an integrated framework. And we are all involved in
that. But the CSCI is not transferring any of its responsibilities
to Ofsted, and nor is any other inspectorate. We will be inspecting
social care. We will be inspecting with Ofsted with the whole range
of inspectorates, as we do now. It just means that we will be doing
it in a framework where how we do it will be co-ordinated as well
as what we do.
Every local authority has a proportionate and co-ordinated
inspection plan which is already fed into, and we would hope to
make all the inspection processes as integrated and co-ordinated as
possible. And looking at children’s trusts, that’s the
integration that we are trying to work out.
We clearly are working on an integrated framework now in the
light of what we know the policies are likely to be. But,
don’t forget, we are going to have a national service
framework for children, which is a very large programme, and so we
will have to look at the inspection framework again when that is
published. And that clearly will have to involve the commission and
CHAI very substantially.
The inspections of older people’s services will also be
carried out by CSCI and clearly, where necessary, we will be
working with CHAI. And we will also be working with the housing
Inspectorates don’t work in isolation these days. They
never have. They always work in coalition. But in terms of powers,
responsibilities, duties, the powers and responsibilities of CSCI
will be much more than equivalent inspectorates.
LR: CHAI chairperson Ian Kennedy said recently in a
speech that he was concerned that all the focus in the green paper
was on education and social services, and the models for inspecting
them would not be appropriate for inspecting the aspects of health
that fall under CSCI’s remit. What do you say to
DP: I think he’s right. That’s why
you have to work on an integrated approach. Because you need to
look at the different elements from the perspective of people who
know about what is a good standard of service in those areas. It
doesn’t mean you won’t do those things together. Doing
things together doesn’t mean you have to look at each element
of service in the same way. But you will look at a common outcome
for children. Together, you are looking at what the outcomes for
children are. Education, social services and health would want the
same outcome for children. But the contribution of education,
social services and health to achieving those outcomes will be
different. And we will need to look at how effective each element
is at delivering the common outcome. And you may need different
models to look at health, social care and education. But that
doesn’t mean to say you can’t do it in an integrated
way. And I think that’s where Ian Kennedy was coming from and
that’s where I would agree with him.
LR: You were still at the DoH when negotiations about
the internal reshuffle of the department all came about. People
were very concerned at the time about the down-grading of social
care, even before children’s social services were moved to
the Department for Education and Skills and the appointment of a
junior community care minister. Was the voice of social care heard
during those negotiations, because a lot of people feel let down by
the loss of 200 social care posts within the department on top of
the departure of the SSI?
DP: Most people working in children’s
services see bringing together the majority of policy functions in
government that deal with children as actually a good thing to do.
It gives a critical mass in government to look at children’s
I have to say that the DfES has been very welcoming indeed to
social care. They have set up a good network with directors of
social services. They are actively recruiting a director general of
children’s services. They have involved me in that process
and I shall sit on the final interview panel. And they are looking
actively to try to get very senior expertise in the new directorate
in the DfES.
The DoH has the lead responsibility for social care overall.
Even though children’s social care policy is now in the DfES,
it’s the DoH that’s responsible overall for workforce
matters, overall responsible for matters to do with social services
Ironically, the department’s ‘change
programme’ means that they are actually quite slow in
engaging social care differently in the DoH at the same level the
DfES has done. I don’t think the DoH wishes to have any less
engagement with social care than DfES or indeed than it had when
the SSI was sitting in the department. It’s just that the
change programme is taking longer, I think, than they or anybody
else expected. And the same sorts of processes that DfES has put in
place are not yet there in the DoH.
The DoH is undertaking a change programme about the whole of the
department. DfES took on a new function within its department. The
scale of the change wasn’t the same. But I’m sure that
the DoH, if challenged, would not want to lessen its commitment to
social care. It’s just taking a long time to organise it.
LR: And you feel that social care got a fair voice at
the beginning of those negotiations and there wasn’t a
down-grading of social care when it was decided not to have a
social care lead within the department?
DP: Just having one voice for social care in
the DoH is inadequate. The issue for the DoH is that it needs to
understand social care to the same level that it understands
health. And if you just have one person with a social care title in
the DoH, then they are the only person who thinks about social
care. What is necessary in the DoH is that the department has to
understand the whole of the industry of social care, which employs
a million people, and has a private sector, a voluntary sector and
a statutory sector. The DoH has responsibility for the totality of
that sector. And if the DoH is going to give strategic direction to
health and social care, then everybody who works in it must
understand when they say ‘and social care’ what it
means. If you only have particular people with a social care label,
only those people will understand.
So, the challenge for the department in its change programme is,
yes to have people who understand social care, but their role
should surely be to help the rest of the department to raise its
game. And that’s what the DoH change programme has really got
to do to: rise to the challenge. The DfES is trying to raise its
game, understand social care, and bring in people who can actually
give social care advice and has set up a whole range of frameworks
The DoH has to demonstrate that it can do the same in the
context of its total change programme. The department ought to be
setting up forums with directors of social services, with the
private sector in social care, with the voluntary sector in social
care. It ought to understand how the voluntary sector in social
care services operates as well as it understands how private
hospitals run. It’s about a way of engagement with social
care, not just thinking we’ve got one person, they’ve
got a social care label, their feet are under the table,
we’ve done it. Actually, they haven’t.
LR: You mentioned performance indicators, which
obviously feed into star-ratings. Have you got plans to develop the
star-rating system in terms of social services, and will
children’s trusts be given star-ratings?
DP: It’s too early to say.
LR: Do you think the government is running before it can
walk in relation to children’s trusts?
DP: I think the government will have to listen
very carefully to the responses to their consultation document.
There are quite a lot of councils out there who think that the
green paper means that they have to dismantle integrated services
that they have set up which they feel are doing well. I’m
sure that that’s not what the green paper intended. And it
would be important that in the response to the consultation that
the government made it clear that, where services were achieving
the outcomes that they want for children, that the structures
delivering that could continue.
I do feel very strongly that restructuring of children’s
services has to be thought through very carefully. I have seen
enough as chief inspector of SSI in the restructuring of
children’s services where proper risk assessments have not
been done, where people become very pre-occupied with re-organising
the service, and the children’s needs are overlooked.
Continuity of service for very vulnerable children must be an issue
that managers involved in restructuring children’s services
always keep in their sight.
LR: You said that, where integrated services were
achieving the desired outcomes, they should be allowed to continue
as they are. But Margaret Hodge said recently that she wants a
children’s trust in every area by 2006.
DP: I think the government needs to make it
clear what that means. They made a commitment to listen to the
lessons of pathfinder trusts, so they really must listen to the
There are a lot of people who are developing integrated services
now without the label of children’s trust that could become a
children’s trusts on the basis of what they now do. But some
of those have the impression that they must unravel what they are
doing and do it differently, even though they may have education,
social services and health within the same organisational framework
doing very well. I think, in the response to the green paper, the
government needs to make it clear that it doesn’t want good
structures being dismantled for the sake of it.
LR: You’ve got no qualms about the
commission’s independence – you feel totally independent of
DP: I felt independent when I sat in the DoH,
let alone now. I did have one comment from one minister, who said
to me ‘Denise, I can’t imagine anything that you would
say when you are independent that you haven’t said with some
force while you’ve been in the department’. I took that
as a compliment. I don’t have any qualms about independence,
and I don’t think we will have any in the future.