Councils defend performance

25 Nov 99
Seventeen local authorities placed under 'special measures' by the government have complained that they were treated unfairly by being named and shamed by social care minister John Hutton.

26 November 1999

Hutton singled out the councils at a press conference on November 23 to highlight the publication of the first performance indicators for social services. The authorities are being monitored because of serious concerns over aspects of their care of vulnerable children, the elderly or disabled people.

However, they had not been told that they would be named. The analysis was also mainly based on Audit Commission and Social Service Inspectorate reports and had nothing to do with the performance indicators.

Rita Stringfellow, chair of the Local Government Association's social affairs and health executive, wrote to Hutton on Wednesday on behalf of the councils.

'You told me that the list of 17 authorities was already in the public domain. The LGA has checked and, as far as we can ascertain, this is not the case,' she wrote. 'There are many positive messages coming from the performance indicators which we believe have been obliterated by publicity on the 17 authorities.'

The councils named are: Barnsley, Buckinghamshire, Bury, Cambridgeshire, Coventry, Kingston-upon-Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North-east Lincolnshire, Peterborough, Sefton, Wirral, Sheffield, and the London boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Lambeth, Hackney and Hillingdon.

Stringfellow said that the actual performance indicators showed that progress had been made. 'Of course, there is room for further improvement, but there are no grounds for pushing the panic button either,' she said.

But Hutton suggested the indicators showed unacceptable variations in services. Inspection of residential care homes for the elderly needed 'serious improvement', while a number of children's homes had not received the required two inspections a year.

He highlighted three councils – Bury, North Lincolnshire and Southend – which had only managed half this number of inspections. 'That's completely unacceptable. When you think of all the scandals and abuses that have taken place, it is clearly horrifying that any local authority is putting in a performance at that level.'

But Jane Held, Southend's director of social services, said that the statistics for her authority were adversely affected by a change in the inspection year. 'It was a shame the minister didn't check the data behind the figures,' she told Public Finance.


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