The Audit Commission was wrong to automatically downgrade a
council because its social services department received a zero
star-rating, a High Court judge ruled last week.
In a landmark victory, Ealing Council successfully challenged the
commission’s rule that any council given zero stars for its social
services by the Commission for Social Care Inspection had to be
given a “weak” performance rating overall.
Mr Justice Walker said the commission had failed to “apply its own
mind” to Ealing’s performance, adding that the downgrading was “an
automatic consequence of someone else’s decision”.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said, in the
absence of a successful appeal, the ruling had profound
implications for comprehensive performance assessment and
“This has got consequences for both the extent to which the Audit
Commission can rely on inspections of other bodiesÉ and its
rule-based approach,” he said.
However, the Local Government Information Unit played down the
significance of the ruling, saying it was unlikely to open the
floodgates to a tide of similar actions providing the recently
proposed changes to the way the Audit Commission assesses council
performance were implemented successfully.
Being judged as “weak” placed Ealing in the same category as the
Isles of Scilly Council, which had an overall service performance
of one out of four. Ealing scored three out of four.
Cumbria Council, which also received a zero rating for social
services, similarly found itself given a “weak” rating, despite an
overall score of three last year.
The council will decide next week after a meeting with Audit
Commission officials whether to follow Ealing’s lead and
Walsall Council, whose overall services scored two, is also
disputing its “weak” rating.
The High Court gave the Audit Commission leave to appeal the
judgement. Should it do so, the case will be expedited as the
commission is due to report to parliament on council performance by
the end of this month.
“We are studying this judgement carefully and will respond when we
have had time to consider the implications,” a spokesperson for the
Audit Commission said.