§ 3. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
What steps the Government are taking to improve the quality of personal social services. 
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)
We are taking a range of measures to improve the quality of personal social services. Our quality protects programme is improving quality and consistency in children's services. The Care Standards Bill will establish a new independent regulatory system in residential care homes, so improving standards in care settings. Our new performance assessment system will, for the first time, provide a national benchmark by which we can measure change. We shall also be consulting in 206 the very near future on a quality strategy to plan a range of further steps that we wish to take in improving the quality of personal social services.
§ Helen Jackson
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I also welcome the commitment to extra resources that we heard last week in the Chancellor's statement. Does my hon. Friend agree that vulnerable citizens, whether they are elderly, children, physically or mentally disabled, need the assistance of personal social services, and that they, in particular, need to be treated as individuals? That requires a professionalism about the provision, whether it is delivered by the public, private or voluntary sector. In areas where there is a mixture, how will my hon. Friend ensure that those standards of quality and professionalism are delivered across the board in personal social services?
§ Mr. Hutton
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of additional resources. She will be aware that we are increasing the total resources available to local authorities in England for personal social services spending at twice the rate of inflation. That is important. However, my hon. Friend is also right that it is not just a question of resources, which is why the Government have developed a new approach to raising the standards of care provided in social services departments. It is totally unacceptable that similar authorities have a completely different range of outcomes in relation to the services that they provide.
I also agree strongly with my hon. Friend about the need to improve the protection for vulnerable citizens against abuse. That is why last week we launched a new drive to protect vulnerable adults from the risk of abuse. It is a very serious problem, and we are determined to work with local authorities to provide better protection for our vulnerable citizens.
§ Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)
I welcome the Minister's comments on protecting the vulnerable against abuse, but is he aware of the concern among nursing homes in East Kent caused by his "Fit for the Future?" document, especially some of its more bureaucratic provisions, which have been cited as the reason for the closure of one nursing home already? Is he further aware of the impact that the programme is likely to have on bed blocking in the acute hospital sector? Two of our three hospitals have this very week been closed for a while to new admissions.
§ Mr. Hutton
Yes, I am aware of the concerns that he and other hon. Members from Kent have made about "Fit for the Future?" It is inappropriate to say that "Fit for the Future" is the reason why homes are closing, because it is not in operation yet and is unlikely to be so for several years to come. We are making it clear to care home providers that, whatever decisions we eventually make about the national minimum required standards, those standards will be fair, affordable and realistic. We have no intention of driving good care home providers out of the sector. Far from it, good care home providers have absolutely nothing to fear from "Fit for the Future?"