A DIRECTOR of the company that charges a fee to grade old people's care homes in Blackpool has branded as "outrageous" the accusations that fellow company director Steve Pullan -- also the chief of Blackpool social services -- has a conflict of interests over his two roles.

Mr Pullan has been criticised by some councillors and care home owners for his role as a director of RDB Star Ratings Ltd -- a Brighton-based company that charges a fee to assess private care homes which are then included in the list of homes recommended to prospective residents by Blackpool Council.

Poulton-based Frank Hessey, a director of RDB Star Rating Ltd, said that those accusing Mr Pullan of having conflicting interests did not understand the functions of the company.

"It's outrageous. He has nothing to do with the side that derives accreditation. In actual fact he is on the board to monitor and make sure everything is right, and to put suggestions forward and improve standards of care in Blackpool.

"It's purely and simply to make sure he's protecting the interests of those that are involved in the scheme. He's not involved in the money side of it at all. He makes recommendations about care, suggesting this or that ought to be done.

"If that 's a conflict of interests then God help the situation. I get so angry when I see a director who's so open now being made into a political football.

"I would defy anybody to say we are doing anything wrong by bringing a quality initiative into Blackpool," said Mr Hessey.

He added that the Care Standards Act, which is due to come into force in April 2002, will ensure that every care home must have a quality assurance standard.

"All I can say is that because he's such a competent social services director and realised that these things were going to happen he became involved.

"In fact someone from the Department of Health complimented the Blackpool director on the relationship that was operated between the private sector and social services. And now you've got knockers trying to have a go.

"In Steve Pullan we have perhaps the best social services director in the country. He is to be commended for doing it," he said.

Mr Hessey added that his own two care homes went into receivership in August 1999. "I have no axe to grind because at the present moment I'm not a care home owner."

And Mr Hessey, who is chairman of the Lancashire Care Association, countered complaints by private care home owners who were worried that they would be penalised by not being part of RDB's star rating scheme through being left off the council's list of homes recommended to prospective clients.

"Quite honestly that's a commercial decision for those homes. They have the option to come in on an annual basis. And it is the elderly residents who benefit," said Mr Hessey.

He added that rumours of RDB charging a £2,500 fee for the service was misleading and that those homes that were accredited then gained a higher subsidy per resident according to the number of stars they were awarded.

"That figure's absolute bull. It can cost that amount, depending on the size of the home, but the fee is on a sliding scale, and then homes that receive the accreditaton get an increase in fees that Blackpool council pay them.

"The star rating system makes sure residents are protected and the home owners run things successfully. How can this be self-interest? Steve Pullan is to be congratulated not decried."

But Steven Bate, Liberal Democrat chairman for Blackpool, Cleveleys and Fleetwood, has added his disapproval to the mounting concern over Mr Pullan's involvement in RDB.

Mr Bate, who ran as a parliamentary candidate in the General Election, investigated the star rating system scheme last year as part of his campaign to fight council plans to close six care homes.

"I would question the ethics of the social services director. Somebody has made some money from this. Let's find out where all this money has gone.

There should be an enquiry and a new transparent and genuinely independent survey of levels of care on the Fylde Coast.

"He has tremendous power to recommend residents to various homes and the funding goes with them."

Mr Pullan was unavailable for comment.