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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