Southwark lambasts CQC ratings after downgrade

Southwark Council has demanded an urgent parliamentary review of the Care Quality Commission after the regulator downgraded the London borough from ‘excellent’ to ‘adequate’ in this year’s annual performance assessment.

The council, which had been a top-rated authority for a number of years, attacked the CQC’s assessment as “flawed” and “inaccurate” and said it would commission independent experts to examine the quality of its adult social care provision.

Chief executive Annie Shepperd also accused the regulator of “declining every offer to come and talk to me”, something she said was “unheard of” for the chief executive of a local authority. However, the CQC has vigorously defended its assessment of the borough.

Attacks focused on inspection report

Southwark’s attacks focused on comments made in the CQC’s report of an adult social care inspection in April and May 2009, for which the borough received an adequate rating on both safeguarding and personalisation, with uncertain capacity to improve. This led to its adequate rating in today’s annual performance assessment, which measures councils’ performance in the year to March 2009 but includes evidence from subsequent inspections.

The inspection report said the council’s spending on adult social care was in the lowest quartile nationally; however Southwark claimed that the Audit Commission had confirmed that this was not the case. The council also said the CQC’s claim that spending on carers’ services had fallen in 2008-9 was wrong.

Shepperd said: “The reason we have to object is because when regulators get it wrong, it lowers public confidence. It is serious because local authorities make changes to the way they deliver services and make investment decisions based upon these reports. But we have no confidence that CQC have got this right.”

Safeguarding case oversight ‘variable’

The inspection report found that despite the council’s commitment to adult safeguarding, there were “variable levels of oversight by first line managers” and delays in holding strategy meetings following referrals. It also criticised performance on personalisation, saying access to advocacy was limited, the council had not sufficiently promoted direct payments and assessments were “not generally holistic”.

As a result, in today’s annual performance assessment, Southwark was downgraded on all seven outcomes, and rated as adequate (the second lowest rating) on all bar one – helping service users make a positive contribution to their communities – where it was judged to be performing well.

Findings ‘based on in-depth inspection’

A CQC spokesperson said: “The findings at Southwark are based on an in-depth on-site inspection and other evidence, such as meetings with the council, performance data, self-assessments and the evidence behind these. The findings of the inspection were agreed with the council’s director of adult social services.”

He said the regulator would be “happy to meet them at any time”, but added: “Some people don’t like bad news and therefore feel disappointed when they get it. They would rather argue about the process than address the issues that affect real people’s lives. We would strongly suggest that Southwark redirect its energies into areas that would make a real difference to people, particularly as we plan to make the assessment tougher next year.”

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