Platt outlines her plans for social care’s new independent regulator

“We only go to the Department of Health when we need to do battle,”
explains Denise Platt, shadow chairperson of the soon-to-be-created
Commission for Social Care Inspection, before our interview has
even begun.

In June, Platt left both her jobs at the DoH, director of
children’s, older people and social care services, and chief
inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate. She is at pains to
prove to anyone who might question her independence that she has
severed her ties with Richmond House. “I don’t have any qualms
about independence, and I don’t think we will have any in the
future,” she insists.

The chancellor Gordon Brown announced the creation of the new
independent inspectorate in his budget statement in July 2002. He
proposed a non-departmental public body operating at arms length
from the government, taking over the duties of the SSI, the
National Care Standards Commission, and the joint review

Three months into her new job, Platt is obviously frustrated that
the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill
that will underpin the commission’s creation and enable her to get
on with the task in hand has still not made it through parliament.

She wants to ensure the CSCI is ready for lift off in April 2004,
with a full complement of staff. But while the bill remains at
committee stage, progress will be harder – although permission from
the Treasury to spend money in spite of the absence of legislation
will undoubtedly help.

Any suggestion that the new social care inspectorate will be no
more than the sum of its parts is rejected by Platt. She insists
the commission will have new responsibilities and a wider scope.

“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 and
commission research, we can undertake value for money studies. We
can do a range of activities that none of the individual bodies
could do. And we can bring all those things together.”

As part of this duty to improve regulated services, Platt hopes to
work with providers in the public, private and voluntary sectors to
develop a system that recognises good performance – possibly
similar to plans for lighter-touch inspections for the best
performing councils.

“There is no incentive for people to improve if we’re always
looking at the minimum. People can be encouraged to improve if they
are recognised when they actually provide above the minimum. So we
would like to discuss some of those things.”

Although one of the commission’s objectives is to demonstrate to
the public how additional social services money is being spent,
Platt denies that this will mean a greater emphasis on targets and

“We’ve been trying to ensure that the service users actually reap
the benefit of the additional money that’s been given to social
care. That’s the ministerial intention.

“What I have always said, and what we will continue to say in CSCI,
is that our goal is improved services for service users. Targets,
and performance indicators are signposts to help people know
whether they are providing better services for service users. They
are not ends in themselves.”

This commitment to “championing the needs of older people, adults
and children” is unflinching. However, Platt’s commitment to the
social work profession at a time when traditional structures are
being dismantled is less convincing.

She envisages the commission being “a very strong voice for social
care” and working with the General Social Care Council, the Social
Care Institute for Excellence and training body Topss to provide “a
combined leadership for social care”. But she says it is a nonsense
to expect it to protect the identity of social work.

Platt believes rather that the onus is on social workers
themselves, and the organisations that employ them.

“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.

“Doctors don’t rely on the Commission for Healthcare Audit and
Inspection to speak on behalf of health. Nurses don’t rely on other
bodies to speak on behalf of health. They speak on behalf of
themselves. And together they are a very powerful coalition.”

Platt also denies that changes taking place at a national level
have been detrimental to the voice of social care. She defends the
DoH’s change programme, which will see the number of social care
posts within the department cut by two-thirds and no one with a
social care background at the top table – despite it being attacked
by her successor at the SSI, Averil Nottage, for sending out the
message that the department does not consider that social care

“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.”

But Platt admits that the change programme is taking longer than
envisaged and that the DoH has been slow in engaging the social
care sector. She believes that, here, the DoH could learn something
from the actions of the Department for Education and Skills since
taking over responsibility for children’s social services. “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 for consultation. The DoH has to
demonstrate that it can do the same in the context of its total
change programme.”

She says the department ought to be setting up forums with
directors of social services, and with the private and voluntary
sector providers. It ought to understand how the voluntary sector
in social care operates in social care as well as it understands
private providers in health care. “It’s about a way of engagement
with social care, not just thinking we’ve got one person with a
social care label, their feet are under the table, we’ve done

The move of children’s social services to the DfES in June was
followed last month by the announcement in the children’s green
paper that the education watchdog Ofsted would “take the lead in
bringing together joint inspection teams”.

Platt is keen to stress that this is about nothing more than
developing an integrated framework and co-ordinating the inspection
processes, and will not involve the CSCI transferring any of its
responsibilities to Ofsted. “We will be inspecting social care. We
will be inspecting with Ofsted, with the 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

Prompted by concerns from those working in children’s health
services, Platt also stresses that, just because inspections are
integrated does not mean methods need to be identical.

“Doing things together doesn’t mean you have to look at each
element of service in the same way. Education, social services and
health would want the same outcome for children. 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.”

Platt is bullish about the commission’s potential. She and her
transition team have just six months before the body is supposed to
become operational to sell themselves to staff transferring to the
new body, the social care sector, and service users. You can’t help
but think it will take more than a few peers and backbench MPs to
stop her now.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.