Departments set to trade in services

From next week, all but a handful of social services departments in
England could bid to take over the running of other councils’
social care services.

Under plans announced by chancellor Gordon Brown in July’s spending
review, local authorities rated fair, good or excellent will be
given new powers “to trade in their efficient services” from

With only 28 of the 150 councils currently classified as weak or
poor under the comprehensive performance assessment ratings, the
new powers have the potential to create an internal market among
social services departments.

This could result in the best performing councils profiting while
helping to bring the weaker ones up to scratch.

John Coughlan, social services director at Telford and Wrekin
Council, welcomed the new powers in principle but warned that they
must not undermine local performance.

“We don’t have a problem with local authorities bringing in
consultants from the private sector, so those councils offering
services should be rewarded,” he said. “But they ought to be
concerned they keep their eye on the local ball too.”

Ian Wilson, social services director at Tower Hamlets, felt the
take-up of new powers in social services departments would be slow,
partly because councillors were liable to see buying in services
from other authorities as bad for its public image.

John Bolton, director at Coventry, thought there were opportunities
for collaborative working among councils but called for less
emphasis on “trading”.

Earlier this month, three-star Kent social services signed a
three-year deal worth £3.7m to improve aspects of Swindon
Council’s failing social services department and ultimately raise
its rating to two stars (news, page 10, 12 August).

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