The government has rejected claims that it was wrong to “name
and shame“ West Berkshire social services department,
writes Jonathan Pearce.
In a House of Commons debate, local Liberal Democrat MP David
Rendel said health secretary Alan Milburn’s labelling of West
Berkshire last October as one of the 14 worst performing social
services departments had caused “an explosion of real anger” among
councillors and staff who had been “so viciously and unfairly
Rendel pointed to a social services joint review published the
day before Milburn’s speech, which made the health
secretary’s comments “absurd, laughable, ridiculous and
totally contradicted by (the review)”.
According to the review, although the council was “not providing
a high level of social care, it was at least among the top 8 per
cent of councils that had excellent prospects for improvement”,
But health minister John Hutton responded that although the
council had “clearly improved slightly”, its performance against
indicators over the past three years had been “poor”, and Milburn
had been right to put it in the bottom 14. In the most recent year,
only 56 per cent of the indicators showed “acceptable performance
or better”, he added, to which Rendel retorted that the indicators
West Berkshire had “benefited significantly” from government
investment in social services, claimed Hutton. Total personal
social services resources had risen by more than 8.5 per cent this
year and total council funding between 1997 and 2002 was up by over
one third, he said.
MPs and others “must not fall into the trap of simply assuming
that all of these problems can be addressed only through the local
government financial settlement,” Hutton said, adding that the
council should consider the suggestions for improvement put forward
by health minister Jacqui Smith at a meeting last November with
Berkshire MPs and a council delegation.
These included using the Health Act 1999 flexibilities to
improve partnership-working with the NHS, setting up a care trust,
exploring the possibility of public-private partnerships to attract
extra investment, and improving delivery by using the
government’s new pathfinder programme.
Rendel’s claim that West Berkshire received less funding
per head than comparable councils – for example, £77 per
child in 2000-1 compared to £111 for Bracknell – was
denied by Hutton, who said the Newbury MP failed to take into
account the area’s relative wealth and affluence.