Take children's homes away from councils, says Hague

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The Independent Online
CHARITIES, CHURCHES and businesses should take over the running of children's homes from local authorities, William Hague will propose today.

Mr Hague will announce that a future Tory government would, following the spate of child-abuse scandals and allegations of mismanagement, break the councils' virtual monopoly on providing care homes. Addressing social workers in London, the Tory leader will promise legislation to separate the ownership of care homes from the responsibility of social services departments to ensure a place in care is available. "This would be a first step towards transferring the management and, if appropriate, the ownership of councils' care homes to the independent sector," Mr Hague will say.

"Charities, churches and businesses have already shown they can run children's homes at least as effectively as local authorities. For their own part, councils have sometimes shown themselves tragically unable to deal with the conflicts of interest and the impulse to cover up which arises when things do go wrong."

The Tory leader will argue that the body which decides who is put into care should not be the same one which runs the vast majority of care homes.

He regards his new policy as an example of "caring Conservatism". It was heavily influenced by his visit to Texas earlier this year, where he held talks with Governor George Bush and was impressed by social services provided by religious groups.

Labour is bound to attack the Tory plan as a backdoor privatisation of social services and to argue that involving charities smacks of a return to the poor law. But Mr Hague insists his proposals are not designed to save money but to improve the running of children's homes.

As Welsh Secretary in the last Tory goverment, Mr Hague set up an inquiry into physical and sexual abuse of children in North Wales. The experience left him convinced that councils are no longer the best agencies to run children's homes.

Mr Hague will call for every child in care to be given the chance to be adopted. He believes the present system is too slow and selective, taking an average of four years to complete an adoption.

He will also pitch for the "grey vote" by announcing that the Tories would give a pounds 20mboost to the allowances which are paid to 55,000 carers who are pensioners.