Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the

Private sector involvement came
even more swiftly to zero star-rated social services departments
than it did to their NHS counterparts. Four of the 10 departments
awarded no stars have already been told to expect the attentions of
private sector performance action teams tasked with helping them
“turn themselves around”. In contrast, it took six months for the
government to send the private sector into the NHS’s worst
performers after the announcement of the health service star
ratings last summer. Health minister Jacqui Smith is plainly
impatient for change. She said immediate action would be taken to
improve performance in zero-rated councils, and social services
chief inspector Denise Platt will call on them to agree performance
improvement plans and report back to ministers if she thinks
further action is required. Smith expects to see the departments
improve by November. The public sector was apparently unable to
produce any appropriate bids to form the performance action teams,
which will be put together by five private consultancies selected
after a competitive tender.

Felicity Collier, chief executive,
BAAF Adoption and Fostering

“I note the evidence from the Audit Commission that monitored
status has been effective in producing change and also the progress
made by councils on special measures. We could argue about the
sophistication of the indicators, but my main concern is the
devastating impact the publicity about a failing authority has on
the morale of the workforce. Social workers on the front line will
feel devalued and exposed. Recruitment and retention of staff
should also be monitored and any effects following ‘star ratings’

Bob Hudson, principal research
fellow, Nuffield Institute for Health, University of Leeds
“There can
be no questioning the right of government and the public to know
more about the quality of social care services, but judgements that
carry such significant financial and organisational implications
need to be more refined than is currently the case. There is also
an issue around what the measures represent. It is premature to
assume that a low ranking is due to poor management that needs to
be replaced, just as it is to assume that three-star authorities
are superior across the board. Too many consequences hinge on too
few data.”

Phil Frampton, national
chairperson, Care Leavers Association
“The star
ratings system can be useful if it guides councils to improving
performance. However, it does not take account of the wealth of the
electorate and therefore discriminates against those councils in
poorer areas. It is also being used as a lever for profit-making
companies to drain council coffers, and will eventually lead to a
further deterioration in services and working conditions for
employees, as witnessed in the care sector.”

Julia Ross, social services
director and primary care trust chief executive, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham
accountability for performance is the best and right way to talk
with our communities about what they need and want. Stars are a
different matter. They are a very crude and simplistic way to
measure such a complex and sensitive area – fine for hotels but not
for care. Context is also important. Those councils that do best
tend to be commissioners rather than providers, and spend well
above their standard spending assessments on social

Bill Badham, programme manager,
Children’s Society
“The drive
to improve standards is commendable, but the means proposed are
dubious. The government should instead keep its Budget commitment
to increase social care spending by 6 per cent per year. It must
now ensure financial security for health and local authorities
through the comprehensive spending review to achieve sustainable
improvement in essential services.”

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