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BRENT LBC HAS MADE PROGRESS IN IMPROVING ITS SOCIAL SERVICES

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Social services in Brent have made an effective start in improving their practice, especially in relation to vulner...
Social services in Brent have made an effective start in improving their practice, especially in relation to vulnerable children, according to a report published today by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate.

The report is part of a rolling programme of reviews to assess the performance of individual social services departments in England and Wales.

The report concludes that the council has a recent history of 'failing' services, but has made significant progress over the last two years. Social services are now well supported by councillors and have a competent management team. The council has proved itself able to assess its own strengths and weaknesses, and to tackle problems in a systematic way. As a result, local people, staff and partner agencies are starting to notice a difference. The council still faces some significant challenges, but the prospects for further improvement are promising.

Specifically, the report says:

-- Brent's child protection arrangements have improved significantly. Almost all of the recommendations from previous inspections have been addressed.

-- On the other hand, there are continuing concerns about difficulties in recruiting social workers; staff vacancies are particularly affecting the quality of work with some children.

-- Services for vulnerable adults are also improving - although many people still find it difficult to get access to services, or are kept waiting too long.

-- Arrangements for assessing the needs of both children and adults need further development.

-- There are some long and acceptable delays - for example, in supplying equipment and adaptations to people's properties.

-- Brent has established strong partnerships with other local agencies - especially the local NHS. This is resulting in a better service for many people, including people with mental health needs and people with learning disabilities.

-- For older people, Brent performs well in ensuring timely discharges from hospital. However, the council still needs to develop a better range of community services - such as day services and respite care.

-- There is a shortage of supported accommodation in the borough, and some services are still based in unsuitable and expensive buildings.

-- Although the prospects for further improvement are promising, there are two main risks for the future. The council will need to pay close attention to these:

- Difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff, if not resolved, will continue to affect the quality of service people receive;

- Social services' budgets are severely overstretched, and there have also been weaknesses in financial monitoring. There was an overspend in 2001/2 and it will be essential to ensure that this does not recur.

To help the authority sustain recent progress, the report identifies a number of priorities for action. These include:

- Maintaining a stable workforce

- Ensuring better access to community care services

- Developing plans to improve the quality and range of local services further

- Involving service users and local people more in planning for the future

- Introducing new information technology systems

- Continuing to set targets and to carefully monitor progress

- Ensuring better financial monitoring

Rachel Ayling, assistant review director, joint reviews said:

'Brent deserves credit for the way it has systematically tackled weaknesses over the last two years. It's encouraging to see how much progress has been made, both in children's services and for vulnerable adults. However, there is still much to do. The council knows that filling staff vacancies continues to be one of the most important priorities, along with tackling the budget pressures. Local people can be confident that services will continue to improve, provided that these problems can be overcome.'

Notes

The joint review of local authorities' social services was established in 1996 as a joint project between the Audit Commission and the Social Services Inspectorate of the Department of Health. The reviews help councils and government identify how to improve services and achieve better value for money. By the end of 2001, Joint Reviews had published over 100 reports, and reviews had commenced in a further 30 local authorities. Each report is presented to the individual authority and widely disseminated to the population each authority serves. An executive summary of each report is available.

The Audit Commission for local authorities and the NHS is an independent body established under the Audit Commission Act 1998. Its duties are to appoint auditors to all local and health authorities and to help them bring about improvements in economy, efficiency and effectiveness directly through the audit process and through value for money studies.

The Social Services Inspectorate, based in the Department of Health, assists ministers in carrying out their responsibilities for the provision of personal social services. It provides professional advice, runs a national programme of inspections to evaluate the quality of services and assists local authorities and independent agencies in planning and delivering effective and efficient social services.

Further details about the Audit Commission can be obtained from its website - http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk

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