Good news wins out

The press statement on the new round of star ratings, issued by the Commission for Social Care Inspection, was headed “Good and bad news for council social services”, but most councils will take heart from the emphasis on the good. Thirty-six of them improved their performance this year compared with last, against 15 which fell back.

CSCI chief inspector David Behan dispelled any A-level-style suspicion of mere grade inflation by the severity of his accompanying comments: it was “unacceptable” that 25 per cent of councils still languished on one or zero stars and it was “particularly disappointing” that more councils this year than last had lost stars.

What Behan might have added was the fact that 75 per cent of councils receiving two and three stars was particularly impressive. Not only did the upwardly mobile councils vastly exceed the backsliders, there were signs that some of the knottiest problems in social services had begun to unravel. Better partnerships with health, better charging policies, fairer access to services and better handling of child protection registers contributed to a more than satisfactory roll call of success.

Clear evidence of a gap in the relative performance of children’s and adults’ services has begun to emerge. Three years ago their performance was similar; this year 77 per cent of councils were serving most adults well, compared with 63 per cent achieving the same for children. Some of this difference may be put down to the distractions of reorganisation, which are often more intense in children’s social services where there is less experience of working closely with education than there is in adult social services of working with health. So it is all the more disappointing that, unlike children’s services, adult health and social care will have different systems of performance measurement even though inspection is to become the sole responsibility of the Healthcare Commission. It is vital that any system respects the differences between the two sides, but it should also recognise that they have much in common.

While the existing system of star ratings is being scrapped on the children’s side, it will be retained for adult social care despite the fact that the NHS did away with stars last year. The CSCI identifies service commissioning as a priority for improvement in adult social care. This will be all the more important as the prospects brighten for joint commissioning with primary care trusts, but an integrated system of performance measurement would surely have smoothed the path.

See Special report;  and feature

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