Inspections of local government services are
often seen as being too punitive and concerned with “naming and
shaming”, according to new research.
The Social Services Inspectorate is singled
out as causing conflict between the humanitarian and professional
values of departments and the pursuit of economy and
The research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation
says that although the cost of external inspections is estimated at
around £600 million it has identified additional costs to
local authorities including staff time and other resources devoted
to preparing and managing inspections, and the damage to staff
It says external inspections would be more
effective if they co-ordinated activities, used common frameworks
and proposed measures to increase the capacity of poor
And it recommends that inspection regimes
should reflect local as well as national priorities and encourage
innovation and appropriate risk taking.
Social services inspection has moved from a
largely advisory role to one of finding fault, say the researchers.
This is partly due to the managerial regime of the SSI which
replaced its professionally-dominated predecessor, the DSS’s social
The report says there is pressure within the
inspectorate to “focus on quantitative performance measures and the
pursuit of economy, efficiency and effectiveness”.
Moira Gibb, president of the Association of
Directors of Social Services, said: “There is a concern that the
amount of inspections has increased beyond sensible levels.
“The SSI has changed and it has taken on a
more inspectorial role but it has continued to maintain its
advisory and support function. And it is important that
improvements are based on evidence.”
Gibb said social services directors are more
concerned with Best Value inspections.
“We need to find ways in which we realise that
quality costs, and that it costs not just in the front-line
services but in the organisation’s support services,” she said.
An SSI spokesperson said: “Our aim is always
to inspect the situation and, if there are problems, to determine
the cause and to help work out a way in which they can best be
The research identifies a need to strike the
right balance between past performance and capacity for
improvement. Good professional practice must be backed by good
Howard David, James Downe and Professor Steve
Martin, External Inspection of Local Government:
Driving Improvement or Drowning in Detail? from 01904