Behind the headlines

The final version of the comprehensive performance assessment
framework was published at the end of October. Overall council
performance will be rated in one of five categories rather than the
four originally planned: excellent, good, fair, weak and poor.
While some have welcomed this slightly more subtle approach, the
Local Government Information Unit says it “plays into the hands of
the name-and-shame culture”.

The Association of Directors of Social Services was pleased that
proposals for a “double jeopardy” rule had been scrapped since a
poor performance in just one of adult social services or children
and families services would have limited the performance of the
council as a whole. Now an average score for the two services will
be used in the final comprehensive performance assessment
calculation. But there is general concern about the impact of the
assessment on recruitment and retention of staff. “An overly
negative tone will do nothing to promote recruitment and retention
or confidence locally,” says ADSS spokesperson Tony Hunter.   

Julia Ross, executive director for health and social
care, London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

“Let’s not forget that good education and social services are
vitally important for local communities, especially those that are
poor and deprived. So it’s good news that our services matter and
that’s been recognised. The other good news is that because of
improved performance management we also know our strengths and
weaknesses and where and how we can improve performance. The bad
news is, as ever, “naming and shaming” from on high. Maybe one day
we’ll reach a time and a place where that no longer happens.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“The labelling of poorly performing local authorities remains
unpalatable because it undermines front-line workers. Simple
categories remain even with the improvements made and they
therefore invite crude judgements which cannot inspire confidence
in local people who have no choice of social care provider. We all
want to see consistency and high standards but a greater emphasis
on celebrating excellence would help.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth
“Assessment is essential to get significant improvement in
local authority services. Public accountability inevitably means
some shaming and blaming. Personally, I can’t see how a local
authority can be called excellent or good with poor child or adult
services. It’s vital to make recommendations achievable and open to
review. More money might even be given to help make progress, not
less. Auditors should only get really cross after a local authority
has failed to redress identified wrongs.”

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds
“It is right that the public should have better
information on the performance of their councils, but these
categorisations are crude. What people really want is accessible,
detailed information on the range and quality of services that
specifically concern them. The silver lining is the greater freedom
to be given to councils rated as excellent, but we have seen in the
NHS how organisations can move dramatically up and down the ratings
system. Are any new freedoms only provisional and, if so, how can
serious planning be undertaken?”

Karen Squillino, senior practitioner, Barnardo’s
“The words excellent, good, fair, weak and poor remind me
of my school reports (well, the latter three anyway!) Those crude
categories did nothing for my self-esteem or my commitment to
staying on at school. I feel that this will be the same on a grand
scale for workers in authorities who get “bad marks”. Recruitment
and retention are in crisis in some authorities. Isn’t this
categorisation going to compound the problem?”

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