Ealing triumphs in High Court over Audit Commission’s scoring system

    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
    inspections.

    “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
    appeal.
    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.

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