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FRONT LINE FIRST-FINANCE

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In the last two weeks secretary of state for health Alan Milburn has named the 14 best - and the 14 worst - social ...
In the last two weeks secretary of state for health Alan Milburn has named the 14 best - and the 14 worst - social services departments (LGC, 26 October).

Mr Milburn has made it clear, in his view, the variation in performance levels is too great - and the variation 'is not primarily about money, it is about management and organisation.'

There may be management problems in some, or all of the worst departments, but a quick analysis of Mr Milburn's list shows, in addition to Lambeth LBC, the 14 include one of the counties affected by the recent spate of reorganisations and seven unitary authorities.

Unitaries are significantly over-represented in the list of the worst departments. Making up only 21%

of social services departments in England unitaries, according to Mr Milburn, include 50% of the worst departments

in the country.

Councils with relatively low standard spending assessments - those with below average levels of SSA provision

per capita for the range of personal

social services - are also over-represented in the list of the worst authorities.

Nine out of the 14 have a total SSA provision for personal social services of less than£180 per head - the national average - and six of those appear in the bottom 25 personal social services authorities in terms of the level of their per capita SSA provisions.

For example, the list includes West Berkshire Council, which ranks third out of the 150 personal social services councils, Buckinghamshire CC (seventh); Bracknell Forest BC (11th); and Windsor & Maidenhead LBC (13th).

Conversely, councils with above average per capita levels of SSA provision for the personal social services are over-represented in the list of the best councils. Nine out of the 14 have a total SSA provision for personal social services of more than£180 per head.

Mr Milburn may be right in saying the problem 'is not primarily about money', but the evidence suggests that, in some cases at least, the problems may have arisen as a result of recent organisational change and a lack of resources and, in some cases, good performance may be linked to higher resource levels.

The issue of resources is particularly important now, as the government embarks on its annual spending review 2002 and councils plan to overspend on personal social services by more than£0.9bn in 2001-02.

Rita Hale

Director, Rita Hale Associates

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