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MILTON KEYNES' SOCIAL SERVICES COMMENDED FOR SOME IMPRESSIVE ACHIEVEMENTS

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Most people are well served by Milton Keynes social services and prospects for improvement are promising, according...
Most people are well served by Milton Keynes social services and prospects for improvement are promising, according to a report published by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate.

The report is part of a rolling programme of joint review designed to assess the performance of individual social services authorities in England and Wales. It commends Milton Keynes for the impressive recent progress and successful delivery of change, which gives cause for confidence in further improvements.

Children's services attract particular praise in the report. The reviewers found a fundamental shift of practice and resources towards community and family-based services and greater partnership with families. This has led to a more user-focused service in this area. Well controlled spending on children's services leaves the authority well placed to achieve further improvements and tackle outstanding areas of need. This improvement has been gained through political prioritisation, clear vision, strong, stable leadership, sound management and positive frontline practice.

Adult social services have not enjoyed the same level of priority and stability of leadership as children's services. Although there has been recent progress for some service users, there are gaps in provision for older people and people with physical disabilities.

Specifically the report says that the authority's arrangements for assessing individuals' needs are generally sound. Most service users value the help they receive from able, committed and well-managed staff. Joint frontline work with other statutory and voluntary sector agencies is well developed.

Progress in children's services has led to higher levels of family support and reduced numbers of children looked after and on the child protection register. There are some good services designed to support vulnerable adults to live at home but some people still need better access to community support. For older people, waiting times for the delivery of services such as aids and adaptations and home care are too long.

National and local priorities for social services are being well reflected in service planning and the Authority has shown a positive attitude to reviewing its services, recognising the need for further change and development. There is good overall commitment to involving local people in planning but this has so far been more successful for some groups than for others.

The authority has strong partnerships with other agencies and these need to be used to produce improved joint strategies for older people and people with physical disabilities. Arrangements for planning, purchasing and checking service quality all need further improvement if resources are to be better matched to the overall needs of people in Milton Keynes.

To ensure continued progress systems for managing performance need to be strengthened and clearer quality standards made available to the public. Information systems also need to be significantly improved, and staff need support to make better use of computers.

To help Milton Keynes focus on its drive for further improvement, the reviewers have put together a set of priorities for action. They include:

-- Ensuring that services for adults are given the same high priority, political commitment and stable management arrangements as services for children.

-- Using the positive relationship with Health partners to press on with the shared planning, management and delivery of services.

-- Sustaining the recent positive developments within children's services, and improving services for children with disabilities.

-- Supporting more people to live at home, addressing service gaps and developing a positive vision for services for older and disabled people.

-- Getting better at planning services and managing performance. Gathering and using evidence about what services people need, how well services are doing, and what they cost.

-- Continuing to shape the workforce, so that the Authority has the people and skills it needs to sustain progress and address current shortfalls.

-- Using the sound existing equalities policy framework to deliver more culturally sensitive services.

Rachel Ayling, assistant review director, Joint Reviews said:

'Staff and councillors in Milton Keynes can take considerable credit for the impressive service improvements they have achieved in recent years. However, much remains to be done and it is imperative that the authority keeps up the momentum. The most significant challenge now is to address the remaining weaker areas of service - especially those for older and disabled people. Our review suggests that Milton Keynes has a good understanding of what it still needs to do, and is highly committed to achieving further progress.'

The joint review team also carried out best value inspections of the services below. These inspections judge how well a service is currently serving local people and how likely it is that a service will improve in the future. Ratings are from 0 - 3, where 0 is poor and 3 excellent. Adult services for mental health and learning disabilities and services for children with disabilities were all assessed as 'fair, one star' services that will 'definitely improve'. Both the children's referral and assessment arrangements and their quality assurance and voluntary sector service were assessed as 'good, two star' services that will 'probably improve'.

A press release from the local authority follows:

PROMISING PROSPECTS FOR SOCIAL CARE SERVICES IN MILTON KEYNES

Milton Keynes Council is highly praised in a report of an inspection of social care services released today.

Whilst recognising there is room for improvement, the council is praised for making huge leaps in progress, in particular with children's social services, since it took over responsibility in 1997.

The accolade comes in a report following a joint review run by the social services inspectorate and the Audit Commission.

The inspection team found, '... most people are well served by Milton Keynes social care services and that the prospects for improvement are promising.'

This places Milton Keynes in the top thirty percent of authorities that have been subject to a joint review of their social services and the report noted:

'Overall, Milton Keynes has demonstrated in children's and some adult services that it can successfully deliver change.'

Of children's services it says:

'Milton Keynes is to be commended for its progress in children's services which has seen a shift towards greater partnership with families, higher levels of family support and well managed reductions in the numbers of children looked after and on the Child Protection Register.'

Of adult social care it says:

There has been good recent progress for some service users, but some gaps and shortfalls need to be addressed. National priorities are being integrated into management and team practices and there is positive joint frontline working with health and the voluntary sector.

Janet Irons, the council cabinet member responsible for children and youth, said: 'We inherited a lot of problems when we took over responsibility for social services in 1997, but we've made a lot of progress, particularly with our children's social services, which we took the unique step of locating in the learning & development directorate.

'The report into children's social services is particularly excellent and clearly marks the massive progress we have made since we took over.

'We now have a strong preventative service rather than a firefighting one and this is clearly recognised.'

The team also looked at the council's five best value reviews into key areas of social care services. They were never less than 'fair' and two of them, were rated 'good'.

The report concludes:

'Milton Keynes can take considerable credit for its recent and continuing progress in successfully delivering some impressive service improvements. The most significant challenge now is to extend the vision, leadership and staff commitment that has characterised these achievements to the weaker areas of service. In order to sustain the encouraging overall progress and to address service deficiencies, planning and performance management systems need to be strengthened.'

Cllr Brian Gibbs, the council cabinet member for adult social care and health, commented: 'Staff can be proud of the progress they have made since we became a unitary authority. We have begun to tackle the issues raised by the joint review. In older people's services, a best value review has begun in conjunction with the health services. This will ensure quality services are delivered to older people across Milton Keynes.

'We have already set up a joint health/social board which has already seen positive improvements, for example by reducing delayed discharges from hospital by 50% since January by setting up a joint team using government money of£255,000 for 2001/2 and this will continue in 2002/3 using£541,000. We will use the review as a springboard to deliver a service that will meet the needs of the citizens of Milton Keynes'.

A copy of the summary report and a full version can be viewed hereand a link will also be available on the Milton Keynes website.

Background Note:

The review considered:

-- how services are arranged for individual people

-- how the care needs of the population are planned for

-- how the authority manages performance and quality

-- how well the available resources are being used

The review team spoke to users and carers, councillors and officers, as well as in-house and external service providers, and key agencies and community groups.

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