Arm’s Length Dangers

    The summer reprieve given to the arm’s-length public bodies that
    dominate the social care scene, the Commission for Social Care
    Inspection and the General Social Care Council, may turn out to
    have been temporary. On that occasion they survived plans to cut
    the number of arm’s-length bodies, apparently vindicating the views
    of both organisations’ leaders that the CSCI and GSCC were vital to
    the sector’s future. But the continuing pressure for efficiency
    savings, which resurfaced as a theme of the chancellor’s pre-Budget
    statement last week, always made the status of the two
    organisations provisional.

    What now has to be considered is whether a strong case can be
    made for realigning them both that goes beyond mere financial
    expediency. According to the Department of Health, the plan is that
    the CSCI and the Healthcare Commission will continue to work
    closely together with the long-term aim of “combined health and
    social care inspection”, presumably code for a merger. The GSCC has
    been asked to forge closer links with the Council for Healthcare
    Regulatory Excellence, the umbrella body for the nine regulators
    that oversee the health sector. At the same time, Ofsted and the
    CSCI alongside the Audit Commission will conduct reviews of
    children’s services. Ofsted is likely to emerge as the senior
    partner and its long-term potential for taking an even more
    dominant role is obvious.

    The loser in this exercise will be the identity of social care.
    It used to be said that the arm’s-length bodies, including the
    training body Topss, had a crucial role in maintaining the
    integrity and independence of social care against the disciplines
    that threatened to engulf it: health and education. But as the
    regulators themselves are swallowed up in this way – even Topss
    England faces being split down the middle – this argument will
    become harder to sustain. The danger is that adult social care
    becomes a mere adjunct of health, and children’s social care of
    education. This must not be allowed to happen if qualities such as
    advocacy, empowerment and the social model of care are not to be
    sacrificed. It was always a possibility that, as the social care
    workforce became more qualified, the burden on it to protect its
    own inheritance would increase. Now it has begun to happen.

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