Director launches attack on star ratings system

The director of a social services department that dropped from
two stars to one in the performance ratings, has launched an attack
on the system, writes Sally Gillen.

Chris Davies, director of social services at Somerset council,
described the ratings system as “misleading” and “inflexible” after
an error by a member of staff saw the performance rating of the
whole department fall, despite rising from 16th to 7th place in the
list of best-performing councils across the country.

He blamed the failure of an inspector to carry out nine
unannounced checks on children’s homes for the

The council, which was one of three that fell from two stars to
one in the refreshed ratings, had improved its performance by 10
per cent over the year, scoring 84 per cent overall across the
performance indicators.

The authority was led to believe, said Davies, that with further
improvement it would be on its way to a top rating.

But the mistake, which was discovered when the yearly returns
were submitted, meant the council scored one per cent below the
required 98 per cent on one of the 11 key performance

Now Davies is calling into question the robustness of the
system. “It was undoubtedly a failure and we put out hands up to
that. But the issue is that one thing has taken us from two stars
to one.”

He added that the star rating system, which was designed to show
people how their social services department was performing and
boost staff morale, was “misleading the public” and “failing on
both counts”.

Attempts to persuade the Social Services Inspectorate to
reconsider its decision proved fruitless, and he was told that
“that’s the system and we can’t change it for
individual councils”.

“If you set up a new system you should be prepared to alter it,”
he added.

A department of health spokesperson said: “Somerset’s star
rating has been reduced in the refresh exercise, due to poor
standards of performance in 2001-02 in two areas – inspection of
children’s homes, and inspection of homes for adults and older

“These standards are contained in a set of published key
performance indicators. They represent minimum standards of
performance, and are used as part of the consistency checking
process to ensure that all councils are treated fairly. Any council
falling below the minimum standard is prevented from receiving one
of the higher judgements available,” she said.

“Councils affected by the KPIs have not been unfairly penalised.
All councils should be able to meet basic standards such as
reviewing child protection cases regularly, or carrying out local
inspections. Somerset was the only council that had both the
children and adults judgements affected by KPIs”

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