There is currently ‘no evidence’ of commissioning malpractice in councils that would warrant inspection by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), a minister has said.
Local government minister, Kris Hopkins, said that councils had been effective in procuring care services and local taxpayers would thank them for keeping care costs under control.
His comments come in the face of longstanding concerns from providers, unions and older and disabled people’s charities about the quality of council commissioning, particularly through the procurement of short home care visits.
Hopkins was speaking in response to a parliamentary question, which asked if the CQC would be given the power to inspect council commissioning even when no specific complaint had been made.
The previous duty on the CQC to assess adult social services departments was removed in 2014 through the Care Act. The regulator can now only inspect councils in exceptional circumstances and with government approval.
In his response to Alex Cunningham, Hopkins said: “I am not aware of any evidence that would constitute the kinds of exceptional circumstances that would warrant deployment of this power.”
He added that where there was evidence of poor commissioning practice, councils were expected to take responsibility for improving performance themselves and intervention from the regulator should be considered only as a last resort.
Colin Angel, policy and campaigns director at the UK Homecare Association, said he was extremely surprised at the minister’s response.
“There is overwhelming evidence on the impact of low fee rates on the terms and conditions of the social care workforce and the commissioning of very short homecare visits have received particular focus,” he said.
Angel referred to comments from care minister Norman Lamb made to The Daily Telegraph, in which he called for councils to be inspected over short home care visits but said his plans were being blocked by communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles.
“Given that the social care minister is also calling for greater scrutiny by the independent regulator, these powers need to be invoked urgently,” said Angel. “The CQC also need the power to undertake assessment of commissioning practices routinely, which they are not currently permitted to do.”
*This article was amended on 29 February 2016 to clarify Care Act guidance on CQC inspections of local authorities.