Taskforce develops a kitemark for social care service providers

A kitemark system for charities that deliver health and social care services on behalf of the Government is being drawn up by the commissioning taskforce that was set up to make it easier for the voluntary sector to do business with the NHS and local government.

The accreditation system is intended to standardise the varying requirements different NHS trusts or local authorities impose on service providers so that they will need to provide documents such as their HR policy in one format only.

The proposal is one of four practical measures being developed by the taskforce, which held its second meeting last week.

Liam Byrne, care services minister, who sits on the taskforce along with several voluntary sector chief executives and Department of Health officials, said an accreditation system would need "buy-in" from local authorities and the NHS, but he hoped it would be implemented by early to mid-2007.

Another measure being devised is a standard contract. "That has now been developed and has to go through some pressure testing," said Byrne.

A third proposal is a development programme for those who commission services from the sector, so that they become aware of the disparity between the way private sector and voluntary sector providers are treated and see the value in ideas such as standard contracts and longer deals.

"The taskforce has clearly recognised that, unless we change the mindset and behaviour of commissioners, we aren't going to move very far," said Byrne. "We have a real education job to do."

The fourth priority, said Byrne, is to build the confidence of commissioners to buy new, untested services from the voluntary sector.

However, this is outside the scope of the taskforce's remit and is being worked on with the new Department of Health social enterprise unit that was announced in the White Paper Healthcare Outside Hospitals, published in January.

This unit encourages the wider use of social enterprise models in health and social care, and will be augmented by a social enterprise development fund that will offer support to social entrepreneurs who want to develop new models of health and social care services. "We want to find some early transactions where the DoH can centrally bear the costs of the deal getting done and use the intellectual capital from that so it becomes a sort of standard template," said Byrne.

The taskforce will meet twice more until July and will then disband.

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