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Care Workers (Kent)

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2003

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What plans he has to increase the number of care workers being trained in Kent. [109805]

Training of care workers supports and protects vulnerable people and helps to recruit and retain important staff. That is why we are providing more than £2 million of additional money to councils in Kent this year specifically for training and work-force development, as well as funding through Topss England, formerly the National Training Organisation for Social Care, to help the staff of all social care employers in Kent to undertake training and qualifications.

I welcome that extra investment for Kent. I know that my hon. Friend takes a close interest in all Kentish matters and she is welcome in the garden of England any time.

In addition to that investment, £750,000 has been secured from the Learning and Skills Council by the Kent community care association, working in partnership with Unison and local authorities to train some 40,000 care staff throughout the county. Is it not the case that quality training is crucial to recruitment and retention of care staff? What is my hon. Friend doing to monitor and evaluate the situation? It is all very well getting the cash, but it is essential that it is used to good effect for the benefit of older people throughout the county.

My hon. Friend is right. I enjoyed our meeting with the Kent community care association, which, as an employer in the voluntary, independent arid private sector, has clearly showed its commitment to training staff. However, it has also recognised that in the past it has sometimes been difficult, even when additional resources have gone to local authorities, for a significant number of employers in the independent sector to get access to those funds. That is why we will be putting a condition on the additional money that we will make available over the next three years requiring 50 per cent. of it to be spent in the independent sector.

My hon. Friend rightly said that that will clearly make a difference to the number of people being trained, which is why the national minimum standards, particularly in domiciliary care and care homes for older people, now include requirements that people who are caring for the most vulnerable people in our communities receive the necessary training. That will be monitored by the National Care Standards Commission and will play an important role in improving the status of people who work in care, thus helping us to recruit into that work.

Does the Minister accept that one of the problems facing trainees and care workers in Kent and elsewhere is the fiasco over the past 12 months with the Criminal Records Bureau? Does she accept that notwithstanding the two U-turns that the Government have had to make there are still considerable problems? Does she not feel that it was unwise not to accept the advice of the Opposition prior to the implementation of checks, to the effect that the bureau was over-ambitious in seeking to check everyone from the outset? What is happening to the backlog, as opposed to current applicants requiring a check? The evidence suggests that there is a considerable problem with that backlog despite the fact that current applicants are being dealt with quicker.

I think that the hon. Gentleman arid I will have a chance to pursue that at greater length later this afternoon, but I can offer him reassurance now. I share his concern about the performance of the Criminal Records Bureau, which is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary instituted a significant review of its operations and why we, along with other colleagues in government announced last November a delay in implementing some of the bureau's checks for certain groups of workers. We wanted to make sure that we could get the bureau back into the shape necessary to provide protection for vulnerable people—a role in which I believe it plays an important part.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman not only that there are now substantially more checks every week than last summer but that significant inroads are being made into the older applications that had got stuck in the system. My understanding is that the vast majority of those have now been worked through. Not only has the old problem been solved but the bureau is now operating far more efficiently. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in recognising the important contribution that that will make to safeguarding vulnerable people.