The Audit Commission was within its rights to automatically
downgrade a council because its social services department received
a zero star rating.
The Appeal Court this week ruled in the commission’s favour after a
legal battle involving Ealing Council in London.
If it had not been for the zero star rating of social services by
the Commission for Social Care Inspection, Ealing would have
qualified for a “good” categorisation rather than “weak” because of
the strong performance by other departments.
Lord Justice Keene, sitting in the Appeal Court, overturned a High
Court ruling made in February in Ealing’s favour. This said that
the Audit Commission had erred in treating the CSCI rating as
decisive and, in effect, allowed itself to be “dictated” to by the
But Justice Keene said the Audit Commission had lawfully decided to
“adopt certain principles” when assessing the performance of local
authorities and that Ealing had suffered no “real prejudice” as a
The Audit Commission’s position is that any council given zero
stars for its social services by the CSCI cannot be given higher
than a “weak performance” rating under the comprehensive
Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission, said: “We
are naturally pleased with the judgement. We have maintained
throughout that the decision of the lower court was legally flawed
if allowed to stand, would require us to second-guess the decisions
of other inspectorates within the comprehensive performance
assessment (CPA) framework.”
Ealing Council leader Leo Thomson said the authority was
“disappointed” by this judgement and that it had made a lot of
progress since the CPA decision last year.
He said: “We now have a new corporate board in place, a new chief
executive and a new political leadership and very hard-working
staff, all of whom will continue the work to deliver better
services to our residents and customers.”
The Appeal Court judges ordered the council to pay legal costs
which are likely to run to tens of thousands of pounds.