The department of health and the Social Services Inspectorate have
done us all a real service by driving forward performance
measurement. Social services departments are in the forefront of
that within local government. Services, and to some extent
outcomes, are better as a result.
But now the star-rating system has reflected unfairly on Somerset
social services department. We have gone from 2 to 1 star. But how
well have we done across all 49 performance assessment framework
– In 2000-1, we were “acceptable or better” on 74 per cent of all
indicators and 16th best in the country.
– In 2001-2, we were “acceptable or better” on 84 per cent of all
indicators and seventh best in the country.
Despite that very strong overall performance, we will suffer more
audit and inspection, and have to submit more plans and have less
freedoms. That will get in the way of us driving up performance
from very good indeed (top 5 per cent) to the best. Everyone in
Somerset wants to do that because it matters to us.
How can this happen? Last year, because government extended the
scope of regulation, our inspection unit had to do 154 children’s
inspections instead of 22 the year before. We gave the unit extra
resources, and, from doing 22 the year before, they did 143 last
year. In the rush to do all that new work and transfer over to the
National Care Standards Commission, they omitted 9 unannounced
inspections. Not good enough, and I’m sorry that happened, but
surely not enough itself to be the one factor that stopped us
holding on to our two-star rating?
So, what is wrong with the star system? Mainly, the “key”
performance indicators: ones where a lower performance stops the
council getting above a certain rating, whatever its overall
performance. Keeping the number of older people going into
residential care low is one of those, but helping more adults with
learning difficulties to live at home is not. Why? Re-registrations
on the child protection register is a key performance indicator but
the proportion of children looked after living with families is
not. Does this make sense?
Government says that it wants people to know how well their social
services are performing. So do elected members and staff in
Somerset, and, I think, throughout the country. But, until these
flaws in the star system are ironed out, it is misleading the
Government needs to get this right. All its good work on
performance will lose credibility if it does not.
Chris Davies is director of social services, Somerset