Indicators on the blink

Local authorities have become so intensely
monitored and measured in every aspect of their work that there is
now to be a “balanced scorecard” compiled from the mass of data
crunched out daily by the scrutineers. Performance indicator data,
Social Services Inspectorate data, Ofsted data, Best Value
Inspectorate data, joint reviews data . . . All these and many more
will be neatly summarised on this miraculous little scorecard. It
is still a mere proposal, contained in the new white paper on local
government, but we may imagine it: small, compact, easily slipped
into the back pocket, easy on the eye and not too taxing for the
brain. In fact, a sheer delight.

If only it were always so simple. Last week,
in a parliamentary debate, Liberal Democrat MP David Rendel took
the government to task for “naming and shaming” West Berkshire
social services. Last October health secretary Alan Milburn
condemned the council for being one of the 10 worst performing
local authorities as judged by performance indicators. Rendel
claimed in the Commons that West Berkshire’s humiliation was
unjustified, particularly as Milburn had held the leadership of the
worst performers to blame.

How was this possible, Rendel asked, when only
the day before Milburn’s speech a joint review report had given the
council qualified praise? It had placed West Berkshire in the top 8
per cent of councils with excellent prospects for improvement,
having found evidence of effective political and managerial

Something was also clearly awry when the
London Borough of Haringey was given a clean bill of health by the
joint reviews shortly before the death of eight-year-old Victoria
Climbie in that borough became headline news.

Problems arise when indicators are used to
produce unwarranted judgements. One of the indicators which decided
West Berkshire’s fate was that the number of child protection
re-registrations was too low. Elsewhere, it might have been too
many moves in care or too few adoptions. Of course, anomalous
figures should be scrutinised but none of them ought to invite the
kind of opprobrium heaped on councils deemed to have failed. CC

– See news page 8

The path to redemption

“Suffer the little children to come unto me,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Our society is nowhere near
following Christ’s example of valuing children. Perhaps
unfortunately, we don’t claim to. But the Catholic Church does, and
it has let many children down.

Now the Church has taken the first step in
redeeming itself. The appointment of an experienced social worker
to implement its child protection strategy is welcome. Her progress
should be closely followed by other institutions: the Catholic
Church is by no means alone in providing an enticing environment
for those who want to get close to children for the wrong

As with any institution wishing to guarantee
children’s safety, the Church’s soul-searching has only just

Many Catholic priests enjoy extraordinary
autonomy and deference. And despite the nuns who keep the Church
alive in many parishes as ordinations fall, some clergy have simply
never entertained notions of gender equality. As a non-Catholic
woman, Eileen Shearer will have her work cut out.

Meanwhile, volunteers have to be nurtured. The
eager gratitude when someone gives their time does not sit easily
with vetting.

The Church has no choice, and should be
congratulated on accepting that fact. But watch with interest. To
arrive at a truly child-centred culture will be a hard pilgrimage

– See news page 9

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