Headlines: December 1st, 2006

TOUGHER GOING FOR SOCIAL SERVICES

 

Improvements in adult social services provision are slowing down, according to the latest Performance Ratings but Directors of Social Services say the achievements are the result of a huge effort by staff and that they have been achieved in the teeth of severe budget restraints and with some councils having to step up their eligibility criteria.

The ratings from the Commission for Social Care Inspection show ten new councils achieving the top tier three-star rating in 2006 but nine others who had that rating last year dropped back to just two stars this time. For the first time no council has failed to achieve a single star but CSCI Chief Inspector Paul Snell said, “Although there are now no zero-star councils, for one-star councils or those termed as ‘coasting’ there is an urgent need for them to improve. We will continue working closely with these councils to help them achieve this.”

The inspection is the first dedicated analysis of adult social care and it highlights a number of challenges which it sees as facing authorities. They include providing timely, convenient and responsive arrangements for referral, care planning and review; ensuring quality assurance systems are in place; demonstrating improved efficiency across all aspects of social services operations and making sure commissioning for services represents good value for money in terms of quality and cost.

In its response to the assessments the Local Government Association said those people who relied on adult social care were continuing to receive an improved service from local authorities. More people, it said, were receiving better care at the right time and in the right place and the ratings were encouraging news for both users and councils that were changing the services that people use for the better. The LGA also called on the Government to redirect resources from the acute sector to community based services.

The Association of Directors of Social Services also said the ratings showed care was continuing to improve but it highlighted the difficulties underlying that achievement. ADSS President John Coughlan, said, “We cannot ignore the fact that these improvements have been made in the teeth of one of the most severe financial squeezes social care has experienced for a long while.” That, he said, meant that councils which had added a star to their total, or remained managing services at the same level as last year, deserved an extra round of applause and those where standards had fallen deserved determined support.

“This achievement represents a lot of effort, a lot of time, and a lot of skill shown by thousands of social care workers across the country. And they should be proud of their achievements on behalf of older people, particularly in a year when social services have been contending with the turbulence of a major restructuring,” he said, adding, “These achievements have not come easily. Efficiency savings have had to be made and in some areas eligibility criteria have had to be raised in order to sustain quality services working to, in real terms, diminishing budgets.”