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Bolton MBC's social services serve most people well and have excellent prospects for further improvement, according...
Bolton MBC's social services serve most people well and have excellent prospects for further improvement, according to a report published today by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate.

Staff are competent, well-supported and there is an organisational commitment to improvement and learning. By focussing services on children with needs at an early stage, Bolton has fewer children in care or on the child protection register.

The report, part of a rolling programme of reviews to assess the performance of individual social services departments in England and Wales, found gaps identified in provision, planning and performance management are already being tackled.

Good partnerships have been formed with the local business community. Such alliances help support and build on the strong partnerships senior managers have with other social and health care organisations.

Corporate and political management arrangements are strong and Bolton is successful in supporting a high proportion of children and adults within the community. Overall, inspectors found that service users are placed at the centre of decision making.

Weak areas, highlighted by the joint review, include inaccurate finance and activity data. This is a difficulty for the council as it impacts on accurate unit costing. It hinders safe budget delegation and the use of performance indicators, which could help drive social, services forward even more.

Specifically, the report says:

- There are good quality services for all user groups

- There are many examples of multidisciplinary procedures and strategies working well in practice

- The department has invested in IT

- There has been capital investment in buildings

- There are a good range of services for people with mental health problems

- There is co-working with children's services by staff from mental health, drug and alcohol teams

Whilst local people can be satisfied they are receiving quality social services provision, there are areas where the council can build on its success. Bolton needs to have more flexible, less building-based services for older people. It also needs to offer a wider range of choice for older people with mental health problems, people with physical disabilities and those with hearing impairments.

Other action points to help Bolton improve its social services further include:

- Develop a commissioning strategy

- Increase user opportunity for independence

- Develop a strategic framework for services for older people

- Complete the whole systems approach in children's services

- Develop a framework for performance management

The joint review team also inspected the council's best value reviews of services to looked after children, learning disability and its community meals service.

Best value inspection reports judge how well a service is currently serving local people and how likely it is to improve in the future. Services are given a star rating from 0-3, where 0 is poor and 3 excellent. The review judged the services as follows:

Services to looked after children - good, two star service, which will improve

Learning disability - whole time care - good, two star service which will improve

Community meals service - fair, one star service which will improve

Inspectors have put forward suggestions to help these services improve further - services to looked after children should give complete budget delegation to each children's home, to allow them to reflect the individual needs of young people.

To help the learning disability service improve, it needs to develop a range of flexible services using the resources in the networks and respite services to support people living alone or with their families. Finally, the community meals service needs to develop eligibility criteria for frozen and hot meals to enable these services to be targeted more effectively, and train staff in their application.

Director of joint reviews, John Bolton said:

'Bolton has excellent prospects based on solid partnership working and inclusion. Communication between staff and managers is good, with all levels of staff committed to the provision of high quality services.

'Partnership working with health and other agencies has been led by members through a planning and service development structure which is understood by all agencies and used for all decision making. Social services enjoys complete support for its work with vulnerable people from other local authority departments and there is a strong corporate base for inclusion, which is built on by Social Services in its work in communities and with individuals.'

A statement from the local authority follows:


Bolton Council's social services has won a top accolade from independent

government inspectors which put it among the best performing services in the


The joint review team carried out an extensive inspection of all aspects of

the service which serves the needs of vulnerable people and employs nearly

2,600 staff. The inspection looked at how well people's needs are met and

examined the performance of staff, structures and partnerships.

The report concluded that Bolton has 'Excellent Prospects' and is 'Serving

most people well'. Of all the councils inspected since a new reporting

method was introduced in June 2000, Bolton is placed in the top group of


The findings were backed by a survey of 450 service users which found that

81% of those questioned thought the services were excellent or good, 82%

said they had been asked how things were working out or whether they would

like something changed, 88% said they got help quickly after a decision was

made to provide services and 87% of those questioned said they were given

all the help that they thought they needed.

In particular the review singled out two aspects of the service for praise -

the Child ConcernModel - 'an outstanding response to families has the

support of all agencies and has demonstrated its effectiveness by reducing

the numbers of looked after children and the numbers on the Child Protection

Register' - and the Service Action Plans whereby 'staff at all levels

contribute and own the agenda ensuring the continuing excellence in


The inspectors identified that the success has been achieved because of the

council's strong political lead, sound management arrangements and

leadership provided by the department's management team. Staff at all levels

are identified as contributing to all owning the agenda for continued


The social services department runs many services on behalf of the people of

Bolton. Some of these are mentioned in the report including supported

accommodation for people with learning disabilities and mental health

problems; family support services working with children and their families;

an advice and information team to encourage access to services from people

from ethnic minority communities; 'Project 360' a unique regional service

for young people, aged 8 to 25 who misuse substances. Following the Better

Government for Older People project in Bolton an 'older people's champion',

cllr Cliff Morris, has been identified at executive level and an older

people's service co-ordinator has been appointed.

The government's Social Services Inspectorate and Audit Commission carry out

a review of every social services department in the country every five

years. They assess how well local people are served by their social services


Service users, carers, staff and managers were interviewed by the inspectors

who also spent several weeks in a number of offices looking at documents and

speaking to service users and carers. Officers from other council

departments such as education and housing were involved as were other

organisations like the health services.

Cliff Morris, executive member for social services and health,

said that he was very pleased that the department had got such an excellent

report. 'It's gratifying to see that in Bolton we are getting most things


'We help over thirteen thousand people living in the borough with their care

needs. The review has identified that most people are served well by social

services in Bolton with service users placed at the centre of decision

making. Staff are well supported and competent and this gives excellent

prospects for improvement. This report confirms my view of the service'.

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