MP challenges Milburn over ‘naming and shaming’ of West Berkshire

The government has rejected claims that it was
wrong to “name and shame” West Berkshire social services

In a House of Commons debate last week, David
Rendel, Liberal Democrat MP for Newbury, said health secretary Alan
Milburn was wrong last October to name West Berkshire as one of the
14 worst performing social services departments. The naming had
caused “an explosion of real anger” among councillors and staff who
had been “so viciously and unfairly maligned”.

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”.

Rendel said that according to the review,
although the council was not providing a high level of good quality
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. In reply Rendel said
that the indicators were “ridiculous”.

West Berkshire had “benefited significantly”
from government investment in social services, claimed Hutton.
There was an increase of 8.5 per cent in cash allocated to total
personal social services this year and total council funding
between 1997 and 2002 was up by more than 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. He
added 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

These included using the Health Act 1999 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 the using the
government’s 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 with £111 for Bracknell
– was denied by Hutton, who said the Newbury MP had failed to take
into account the area’s relative wealth and affluence.

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