Four super regulators to replace inspectorates

17 Mar 05
Gordon Brown heralded root-and-branch reforms to the regulation of public services as he used his Budget statement to announce plans to slash the number of inspectorates from 11 to four.

18 March 2005

Gordon Brown heralded root-and-branch reforms to the regulation of public services as he used his Budget statement to announce plans to slash the number of inspectorates from 11 to four.

The chancellor, addressing a packed House of Commons on March 16, pledged to sweep away the existing tangle of regulatory bodies and replace them with a single organisation to cover each broad service area.

The four 'super-regulators' will cover criminal justice; education and children's services; health and social care; and local services. The rationalisation opens another front in Brown's drive to improve government efficiency and wring maximum value-for-money from the government's investment in key services.

Under the plans, five inspectorates covering the police, probation service, prisons and courts will merge. A consultation paper will be published by the Home Office shortly.

The Commission for Social Care Inspection, which was set up just last year, will be dissolved by 2008.

Its functions will be split between Ofsted, which will assume responsibility for children's social services, and the Healthcare Commission, which will inspect adult services. Ofsted will also absorb the Adult Learning Inspectorate. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly and Health Secretary John Reid will set out a joint implementation plan.

The Audit Commission will take over the Benefit Fraud Inspectorate and be responsible for ensuring a co-ordinated approach to the regulation of local government services. Detailed proposals will be published in the latest in a series of discussion documents on March 22.

Dame Denise Platt, chair of the CSCI, attacked the 'upheaval' that Brown's plans would bring to the social care sector, pointing out that these structural reforms would be the third since 1998.

Platt said her organisation had already begun the move to a slimmed-down, risk-based system of regulation that the government had been advocating.

'It will be very difficult for us to deliver this level of change without a period of stability. We will try to deliver as much of this agenda as we can but clearly the announcement means that we will have to modify our plans.'

Anna Walker, chief executive of the Healthcare Commission, said the move towards inter-agency working meant the plans were a 'natural step', but she echoed Platt's concerns.

'Structural change must not hamper the real improvements in services that we are driving for patients and the public, doctors and nurses.'

The Audit Commission, by contrast, was fulsome in its praise. Chair James Strachan said: 'This announcement is a valuable step towards streamlining the inspection of local services.'

Brown also announced a drastic reduction in the number of government agencies inspecting and regulating businesses from 35 to just nine, after accepting the findings of a wide-ranging review by Philip Hampton. Consumer watchdogs, trading standards and food inspectorates will all be targeted.

The news was greeted with dismay by Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union.

'We would question just how standards in crucial areas such as health and safety, schools and childcare will be maintained through cuts and mergers of inspectorate bodies,' he said. 'For thousands of hard-working civil and public servants the Budget gives little reassurance about their futures.'

In his Budget statement, Brown hailed the early successes of the Whitehall efficiency drive masterminded by Sir Peter Gershon.

He told MPs that the first 7,800 civil service posts had been shifted away from London under the Lyons relocation review, while 12,500 of the 84,140 posts due to be cut under Gershon have now gone.

In all, Brown said, the first £2bn of the Gershon savings had, ahead of target, been delivered, including £600m from the Home Office, £300m from the Ministry of Defence and £123m from local authorities.

Brown, delivering what is almost certainly the last Budget before the general election, made a thinly veiled criticism of the Conservatives' plans for £35bn efficiency savings.

'I hold to Sir Peter Gershon's recommendations that to go beyond his proposal for £21bn savings would, in Sir Peter's words, put the delivery of frontline services at risk,' he told cheering Labour MPs.

The chancellor also sought to court the grey vote and spike opposition guns on council tax by promising a £200 rebate on bills to all pensioners.

In addition, pensioners will no longer have deductions taken from their state pension during stays in hospital and, from next year, all councils will be obliged to provide free bus passes to over-65s.

But Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was unimpressed. 'Over the last eight years the chancellor has tinkered an awful lot, but he has failed to tackle fundamental unfairness in the tax system. This Budget is just more of the same.'


Did you enjoy this article?