Headlines: October 17th, 2002

Local authority social services departments are facing an increasingly tough environment in which to deliver their services but they have to ensure they find ways to sort out how to help potential customers quickly. Those are the findings of a report by the Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate which have jointly reviewed 30 councils in the last year. Several authorities were performing well and most had good quality services for some users but, says the report, a number of the reviews had disappointing outcomes.The document, entitled ‘Tracking The Changes’, also points to the key role of local councilors in bringing about the necessary changes.

“The biggest challenge facing councils is to ensure that they assess potential new customers in a timely and consistent manner and sort out how they are going to help them quickly,” says the report.

The document spells out the increasingly tough environment faced by departments with demand for services increasing, the ongoing need for modernisation, rising public expectations, shortages of qualified staff and budget pressures.

The Chief Inspector of Social Services, Denise Platt, said, ” Councils need to ensure that their social services are flexible enough to respond to the many different needs of the people who seek their help and they need to ensure they can offer choice in the way that those services are delivered.”

She went on, ” There is excellence in many services but it is spread too thinly. Councils should not be afraid to challenge and make radical change to the way they have delivered their services in the past if they are to meet the public’s expectations.”

Audit Commission Controller Sir Andrew Foster echoed the comments. ” The good news is that councils have a growing awareness of the need to embrace change. Many have responded positively to their joint reviews. Overall social services are still not where they should be but steps are being made in the right direction,” he said.

‘Tracking The Changes’ highlights the key role that can be played by local councilors in steering change and it urges them to be prepared to make some hard decisions. Overall the aim must be for the basic shape of services to continue to shift, it says, so that both children and adults are helped to remain at home,crises are prevented and people supported and empowered to make choices for themselves.