Councils ‘must be more transparent about adult care performance’

Chair of sector improvement body urges councils to be more open with each other and local people, following concerns that some are not opening themselves up to scrutiny.

Councils must become more transparent about their adult social care performance, says the chair of the body charged with driving improvement in local authority adults’ services.

The comments from Peter Hay, chair of the Towards Excellence in Adult Social Care Performance (TEASC) programme board, follows criticisms that some authorities are failing to participate in the peer support improvement regime that TEASC oversees.

Hay, strategic director for adults and communities at Birmingham Council, also said that councils needed to ensure that the data they collected and published reflected changes in social care, such as the growing importance of prevention.

Annual assessments scrapped

TEASC, a partnership led by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and Local Government Association, leads the sector-led improvement regime put in place when the government scrapped annual assessments of adult social services in November 2010.

The new regime includes the publication by councils of ‘local accounts’, which are designed to show local citizens how authorities have performed against their priorities, and peer reviews, inspections commissioned by local authorities and carried out by staff from other councils.

However, some councils are not taking part in sector-led improvement and opening themselves up to scrutiny, warned Wolverhampton Council’s director of adults and community, Sarah Norman, at last week’s National Children and Adult Services Conference.

Call for transparency

Hay said: “The more transparency we have, the easier the public debate is going to be.” He said that if councils expected transparency from providers whom they commissioned, they had to do the same.

A progress report published last week by TEASC found that there was a lack of standardised evidence on several topics, including the effectiveness of prevention, community based provision, and self-funders.

“Everyone is talking about prevention but we haven’t caught that in the data or in local accounts,” said Hay. He said this could probably be attributed to councils using old-style definitions of their activities, but they had the power to change these under the new improvement regime.

Old data

“Clearly we need some ability to compare performance, but the standardised data we have is based on national minimum datasets which are many years old,” he said.

Councils could also make it easier for members of the public to access local accounts and reports from peer reviews. “Most peer reviews are published but are they easy to find on websites?” added Hay.

Norman also criticised the quality of some local accounts, at last week’s NCAS conference.

‘PR documents’

“There are some that are little more than PR documents and we are doing ourselves no favours with that approach,” she said.

TEASC has received £500,000 from the Department of Health to fund its work in the coming year, including completing improvement work in the seven local authorities rated ‘adequate’ by the Care Quality Commission in its final assessment of adult social care in 2010.

Hay said there were “drawbacks” to TEASC’s funding being agreed with the government year-on-year, but this also made it “focused and thoughtful in how we spend it”.

Sue Bott, director of development at Disability Rights UK, said it was “early days” for the new improvement programme but it was crucial that councils developed strong partnerships with individual service users and local organisations.

Service user partnerships crucial

“It’s not just about what councils do and the decisions they make,” she said. “Service users make a large contribution towards meeting their own outcomes, particularly if they have a personal budget.”

Bott said it was important that more councils commit to the Think Local Act Personal partnership’s Making it Real framework, which sets out standards of social care support developed by service users and carers. Around 40 local authorities have signed up so far.

Bonnie Green, chair of the Richmond Local Involvement Network (LINk) in London, urged authorities to share data with local service user-led organisations so that they can scrutinise the quality of social care.

‘Robust audits’

“If we want to do a robust audit of social care provision and outcomes across service users and carers, the only complete way we can do that is through the local authority because they carry the data,” she added.

This type of co-operation has enabled Richmond LINk to produce reports on Richmond Council’s provision, including a study of people’s experiences of its assessment process for self-directed support.

However, Peter Beresford, social work academic and chair of service user organisation Shaping Our Lives, said the work on sector-led improvement had “no meaning or bearing on the kinds of issues service users are concerned with”.

“Service users talk about the narrowing of access to and reduction in the levels of support,” he said.

“People are thinking ‘what’s the point in getting involved’. They are struggling to find different, more effective ways of having a voice. Those more effective ways are about being outside the structures and trying to exert influence through more direct action.”

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