Local authorities’ appeals against star ratings fall on stony ground

Almost one-third of councils appealed against their star rating this year but most were rejected, in authorities’ first opportunity to formally challenge inspectors.

The Commission for Social Care Inspection said today that 46 councils appealed but just six had their representations upheld, two of which only partially, as it published the annual star ratings.

The CSCI said there were no general reasons for appeals and the challenges reflected local circumstances. Previously, authorities looking to challenge the inspectorate’s verdicts had to pursue a judicial review.

Councils showed their third consecutive year of improvement since the introduction of star ratings, with 76 per cent getting two or three stars, up 7 per cent on 2004 and 33 per cent since 2002, although four of these went down from three to two.

Six of the eight councils on zero stars last year moved up, but Sandwell fell into the bottom category, joining Plymouth and the Isles of Scilly.

And 29 of the 51 one- or two-star councils deemed to have shown insufficient improvement since 2002 have been removed from the CSCI’s “coasting” category.

Jeni BremnerJeni Bremner, programme director for community well-being at the Local Government Association, said: “In a tight financial year people are showing their commitment by continuing to deliver good services. We need to keep moving towards having no zero stars.”

However, although this year’s improvement was greater than last year’s, more councils – 15 as opposed to 11 – dropped a star this year.

CSCI chief inspector David Behan said: “The overall picture is one of improvement. [But] it is particularly disappointing that more councils this year than last year have dropped a place. We will be keeping a close eye on them and all the zero and one-star councils over the next year.” He said the same applied to two-star councils deemed to be “coasting”.

However, Association of Directors of Social Services president Julie Jones expressed concern “about the use of the term ‘coasting’ and about how prospects for improvement are assessed”.

She added: “There is a danger that sustaining good performance in a challenging environment can become a negative issue that unnecessarily reduces public confidence.”

CSCI also highlighted the fact that unitary councils, which account for almost one-third of authorities, were performing less well than other types of council. They were the only group whose average rating fell in 2005 and whose performance was below the national average.

Eight councils are yet to receive their rating because they are still completing their joint area reviews for children’s services.

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