Social Care Improvement ‘Slows’

For the first time since star ratings were introduced, no council in England has been zero-star-rated for adult social services this year. But 21 councils have failed to improve their services since the ratings were introduced in 2002.

Care Services Minister Ivan Lewis said these councils would have to produce action plans for improvement.

Ten new councils achieved the top three-star rating in 2006, but nine others effectively lost top billing. The performance ratings, published by the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI), show that the rate of improvement overall appears to be slowing.

Of the 150 councils that provide social services, three quarters now have either two or three stars for their adult social services. But a fifth of all councils in England still only receive one star and of these, 24 have been given just one star for the past three years running.

Of the 24 councils that last year were described as “coasting”, 12 have improved sufficiently to be removed from the list, with only one new council being added.

However, the CSCI warned that there was an urgent need for action at the 13 councils that remained on the “coasting” list. 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.”

In 2006, 25 councils (17%) boosted their star rating, while 16 (11%) fell back. There are now no zero-star-rated councils, 33 (22%) have one star, 73 (49%) two stars and 44 (29%) three stars. Fourteen councils moved up to two stars in 2006, while seven fell from two stars to one.

The CSCI report said some councils needed to improve referral and planning arrangements, widen choice, boost support for carers and ensure good value for money, as well as quality. It also revealed that nearly two thirds of councils have changed their criteria in the past year to provide social care only for the most dependent people.

In more than 100 councils, people who used to get regular help with cleaning, bathing, dressing and shopping will no longer be entitled to care unless they are classified as a “critical” or “substantial” risk.

Mr Lewis said: “It is extremely encouraging that no councils are now zero-star-rated and shows that real improvements are being made across the board. However, I remain concerned about the 21 councils who, since 2002, have not improved the services they deliver to adults. Adults and their carers who use services in their area deserve better, therefore I am asking CSCI to work with these councils to develop improvement action plans by March next year.”

Ann Mackay, of the English Community Care Association, said: “We believe that providers¿ views should be an integral part of CSCI’s assessment of council performance. We do not believe that this happens at present and would expect that as the performance framework is reviewed CSCI will proactively take provider views on board about how well their councils are doing.”

The latest star ratings are the first to concentrate solely on adult social services, rather than adult and child services.