news analysis of performance indicators and Supporting People guidance

Closer inspection of this year’s performance assessment
framework finds signs of improvement amid the usual controversy
over poor performers, writes Katie

Health secretary Alan Milburn did his best last month to
counteract any positive message about social services’ performance
with criticism and blame during his annual speech to the

But, if you look hard enough, behind the negative picture he
succeeded in painting, there is a glimmer of hope. The latest set
of performance indicators show that, on the whole, social services
departments are actually getting better.

In fact, a third list of councils that was lost among the
headlines of the worst and the best performers was dedicated solely
to the 20 most improved councils.

The London Borough of Lambeth’s executive director of social
services and health improvement Lisa Christensen believes progress
measured in such terms of improvement, rather than success or
failure, would be “more helpful”, but that the time elapsed between
the collection of data and its publication is also part of the

Christensen says that in an authority such as Lambeth, which
starts from a very low baseline and was named in the list of the
worst 14 councils, changes are taking place all the time, but that
recent improvements in the south London borough won’t show up in
performance indicators until next year.

“It’s a bit like describing a toddler by using a picture of a
new born baby and saying that is what it still looks like,” she

Variation between councils has fallen for the second successive
year, but there are still marked differences between
councils’performances. For example, the number of users who said
that matters relating to race, culture or religion were noted by
social services staff varied from 7 per cent in Reading to 94 per
cent in East Riding of Yorkshire. In Barnet, north London, just 39
per cent of child protection cases that should have been reviewed
during the year were reviewed, compared with 100 per cent at Ealing
Council, west London.

Some of these variations can be attributed to geographical
differences in the costs of living, wages and services.
Buckinghamshire, which was named in the bottom 14, has called for
an urgent meeting with Milburn to discuss funding. Council leader
David Shakespeare says it is hardly surprising that Buckinghamshire
ended up in the bottom group as it is the worst-funded authority in
the country. Over the past three years it has had to add
£34.5m to centrally-allocated funds to pay for social care
services, leaving education and roads underfunded. “The government
is continually, and rightly, pushing for higher standards in social
care. Unfortunately it is not providing enough money to fund
these,” says Shakespeare.

Of the comparable performance indicators, 18 show an improvement
between 1999-2000 and 2000-1, three show deterioration and two have
remained at the same level. While the government will examine all
of the results, it is likely that those that impact directly on
national targets will come under particular scrutiny.

The proportion of young people leaving care with at least one
GCSE or GNVQ has gone up from 31 per cent in 1999-2000 to 37 per
cent in 2000-1, but this is still a far cry from the national
priorities guidance target for at least 50 per cent of children
leaving care to be achieving this by the end of this year and 75
per cent by 2002-3. As the actual grades attained are not
published, it is hard to assess the progress being made towards the
public service agreement target the Department of Health has with
the Treasury to increase to 15 per cent by 2003-4 the proportion of
children leaving care with five GCSEs grade A* to C.

Only 9 per cent of young people leaving care gained a GCSE or
GNVQ in named and shamed Richmond-upon-Thames, south west London.
Strategic director of caring for people, Peter Wilson, says that
the council recognises that care leavers’ qualifications need
addressing and has entered into a local public service agreement
with the DoH. However, he also explains that the poor performance
on that particular indicator is partly due to the “very
considerable” number of unaccompanied young asylum seekers who have
limited English.

Hertfordshire, which has a joint education and social services
department, achieved a higher than average score on this indicator.
Corporate parenting officer Felicity Evans says the council is able
to offer the children it looks after a “far more rounded
educational experience” as a result of the joint service and
unreservedly recommends it.

“The joining up of our services has brought huge benefits to the
education of the children we look after,” she says. “We’re working
right across whereas before social services wouldn’t have had
access to education advisers because they work for education. We
can now work in a joined-up fashion and share our expertise,

With a national public service agreement target to increase the
numbers adopted from care by 40 per cent by 2004-5, adoption is
also a government priority. Bury Council, named on the improvers
list, was singled out two years ago for doing badly on this, but
the latest indicators show the council achieving well above the
average. Head of children’s services and modernisation Fran Thomas
says that the improvement reflects an effort by front-line staff,
who are clearer about where to devote their attention as a result
of better performance systems, as well as the impact of Quality
Protects funds.

Chairperson of the children and families committee of the
Association of Directors of Social Services, Rob Hutchinson, says
that if the progress on adoption is maintained, then theoretically
the government’s target should be reached.

He says: “However, predicting adoption is not that
straightforward and figures will ebb and flow from year to year. It
is vital that social workers and managers concentrate on meeting
the individual needs of every child rather than trying to fit them
into a target.”

Under the national minimum standards for older people,
introduced under the Care Standards Act 2000, care homes must
provide 80 per cent of places in single rooms by 1 April 2007. The
performance indicators show that many councils are already
surpassing this target, but a few still have more to do. Stockport,
which fell into both the bottom 14 and the 20 best improvers, only
achieved 77 per cent on this indicator but believes that it is on
target, despite facing a local care home crisis.

In another of its public service agreement targets, the DoH has
made helping older people to live independently a priority. The
indicators show that the numbers of older people being helped to
live at home per 1,000 range from 37 to 215 per council. Hilary
Simon, director of social services and housing at Windsor and
Maidenhead, another of the poorly performing councils, describes
this indicator as a “blunt instrument” for authorities that are
affluent. “What we put our energy into is good advice about welfare
benefits, for example attendance allowance, and then older people
often go and arrange their home care themselves with their own
money,” she says.

The ADSS and Local Government Association have already described
the data derived from the performance indicators as “questionable
and limited”, and councils up and down the country have expressed
dissatisfaction with them as a form of assessment. Blackpool, for
example, found itself in the bottom 14, partly for failing to
return its information on time.

Stockport’s director of social services Jean Daintith
acknowledges that, while they’re far from perfect, indicators have
to exist: “They have flaws but we need to use them for us, not
against us. We need them to demonstrate our improvement.”

Whether the new star-ratings system for councils announced by
Milburn in October will improve the way performance indicators are
used remains to be seen. But, with Milburn’s promise that councils’
performances and ratings will from now on be judged on the results
of a “more rounded assessment”, there is at least hope.

Councils showing most improvement

Blackburn with Darwen







Kingston upon Hull



Newcastle upon Tyne






South Gloucestershire



Tower Hamlets

Guidance outlines policy’s first stage

Bert Provan, head of the Supporting People programme, talks to
Anabel Unity Sale about putting the
framework in place and how he sees the policy working with social

Christmas has come early for Dr James Albert Provan, otherwise
known as Bert, project director of the government’s Supporting
People programme.

His cherished gift is the first two sets of guidance, after
seven consultation documents, on the new funding regime for
supported housing, which were published this week.

From April 2003, the Supporting People policy will transfer
responsibility for housing-related support from a centrally funded
housing benefit system to individual local authorities’ ring-fenced

The Interim Guidance1 details one-off tasks that
councils will need to complete before 2003 in order to put
Supporting People in place, while administrative guidelines on how
it will operate are contained in the Steady State

Organisations will be able to feed back comments about the
documents to Provan and his colleagues at the Department of
Transport, Local Government and the Regions until 14 December.
Final versions of both will be published in January 2002 and the
Department for Work and Pensions will issue guidance on the first
year of funding for Supporting People next April.

Although Supporting People is a housing policy, its implications
for those in social services are far reaching. Alongside
representatives from local health, housing and probation bodies,
social services will sit on every English and Welsh council’s
commissioning body for Supporting People services.

The key task facing commissioning bodies, according to the
Interim Guidance, is the production of a shadow strategy for the
DTLR by September 2002. It should detail their vision of how
Supporting People will contribute to the delivery of local
strategic priorities and needs, and provide a baseline supply map
of current provision.

The commissioning bodies must also ensure that interim contracts
will fund the continuation of current supported housing services,
and ensure that financial and accounting systems are in place to
make payments for services.

Some are concerned that the most vulnerable and challenging
users will not have their needs met by the Supporting People
budget. Provan is adamant that this will not be so, and that it is
something the mapping exercise should pick up on.

“If an authority says that in 2002 it has 100 places for
ex-prisoners (in a hostel) but by 2004 it plans to have none, then
we will say sorry, but they cannot do that,” he explains.

Provan also denies that, with all that is expected of social
services, there is a risk they will have “Supporting People
fatigue” by the time it goes live: “There are services out there
that could be used better and social services are being given the
opportunity to influence how to make best use of the services.”

The programme should also build on existing relationships
between social services and housing departments. “Identifying the
importance of housing to a social services client is part of the
improved understanding that the programme should bring through
partnership, strategic planning and the commissioning process,” he

In terms of how Supporting People will fit in with all the other
initiatives that social services are involved in, Provan says that
far from seeing it as an additional burden, departments should
think of it as “another building block” to help them deliver their

“What an authority should do is ask itself how housing-related
support services can help it deliver its mental health strategy,”
he argues.

Pressed on more specific developments, such as the new care
trusts being brought in under the Health and Social Care Act 2001
to provide health and social care services for certain groups,
Provan is less clear about how Supporting People will fit in. He
admits he has not given much thought to how the two initiatives can
avoid duplicating work.

“Where Supporting People will be in five years, I really don’t
know,” he confesses. “This programme will continue to develop in
response to the emerging new structures from health and social

1 Department of Transport, Local Government and the
Regions, Interim Guidance, DTLR, 2001

2 Department of Transport, Local Government and the
Regions, Steady State Guidance, DTLR, 2001

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