Star ratings system will allow for ongoing improvements, says Milburn

Health secretary Alan Milburn has agreed to
calls from the Local Government Association to allow the ratings of
zero-star councils to be changed to reflect improvements during the
year when the star ratings scheme is introduced for social services
next month.

In a letter to LGA chairperson Jeremy Beecham,
Milburn said: “As well as removing stars in-year when evidence of
poor performance comes to light, where evidence of good performance
becomes available for a zero-star council, we will allow its star
rating to be increased in-year.”

Milburn was responding to Beecham’s “concern
with the proposed final shape of the star ratings system” set out
in a letter last month. He also agreed that councils would need
more than 48 hours’ notice of their star rating.

However, the health secretary refused to
accept Beecham’s assertion that the star ratings system will place
too much emphasis on specific performance indicators and not enough
on other evidence of quality or performance, such as charter marks
and customer satisfaction ratings.

Milburn said: “As part of the consistency
checking process, the effects of key performance indicators will be
relatively small. Indeed, the criteria attached to them are in
themselves not onerous. I do not think you would argue, for
example, that a council failing to review all its child protection
cases should be judged as among the best.”

He also rejected Beecham’s suggestion that the
star ratings system will be incompatible with the approach adopted
for other council services as part of the comprehensive performance
assessment (CPA).

According to the Audit Commission, the CPA
will assess performance of the quality of current services and the
council’s capacity to improve. From the end of this year, councils
will be given an annual report card, placing them into one of four
streams: top performing, striving, coasting or failing (News, page
8, 4 April).

Social services star ratings will be formed
using a combination of the classification of performance for
children’s and adults’ services.

Beecham said the set of principles used to
reach the single social services rating “may be different” from
those agreed for other services, for example in relation to the
weighting between performance and prospects for improvement.

“We are thus faced with the prospect of
incompatible scoring regimes,” he said.

But Milburn insisted the link between social
services star ratings and the CPA was much closer. “They both bring
together evidence from inspections, performance indicators, and
other sources to come to a balanced assessment. There may be some
small differences, which can be looked at again.”

The letters followed a meeting between the
Department of Health, the LGA and the Association of Directors of
Social Services in March to discuss how the star ratings system
would work.

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