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Wrexham social services are serving some people well, but have uncertain prospects for improvement, according to an...
Wrexham social services are serving some people well, but have uncertain prospects for improvement, according to an independent report published today by the Audit Commission in Wales and the Social Services Inspectorate for Wales.

The report found that until recently the pace and scale of improvement in Wrexham had been constrained by a lack of clear political leadership arrangements and investment in social care. The report notes, however, early signs of improvement across a number of services. The review says that one of the authority's greatest strengths is the quality of its workforce; no other authority in Wales has a higher proportion of qualified staff. However a range of organisational issues, including a confused service structure and a lack of integrated working, has meant that this workforce is not being used to its full potential.

The report is part of a rolling programme of joint reviews designed to assess the performance of individual social service authorities in Wales and England.

Specifically, the report says:

* Services are now better organised to deliver a more consistent response to requests for help. This needs to be matched by a greater focus on achieving good outcomes for service users;

* The investment in family support has had a good impact and has helped to prevent the need for more formal child protection interventions. However, the council struggles to meet the placement needs of the increasing numbers of children it looks after. This effects the quality of life of children as well adding to the budget pressures of the council. There is much more to do to support children with disabilities and special needs;

* The modernisation of services for adults has begun but the range, choice and quality of services to support people living independent lives remains too patchy. Good joint work with housing has however benefited all user groups;

* The council remains a major provider of care, although there is an increased use of independent sector r esidential care for adults. The comparatively higher cost of these direct services, without evidence of added value in terms of quality, limits the number of other services that can be offered;

* To drive through the improvements needed in social care more effectively, the council needs more focused political leadership and a more coherent, managed approached to delivering the changes required;

The joint review identifies the following priorities for action:

* Review the political and managerial arrangements for driving the social care agenda;

* Focus on measurably improved outcomes for service users and their carers;

* Raise the profile of commissioning to develop a more mixed economy of care;

* Make better use of resources, so as to be able to provide more and better services;

* Secure greater ownership and urgency about improving services;

The report is part of a rolling programme of joint reviews designed to assess the performance of individual social service authorities in Wales and England.

Sue Mead, review director, joint reviews, said:

'Wrexham CBC has a real potential for improvement in its social services but this has not yet been fully realised. This report acknowledges where progress has been made but is clear that more focused leadership and management is needed in order to extend the range, quality and value for money of services available to support people living independent lives. The great strength in Wrexham is the quality of the workforce; this potential needs to be fully tapped in order to quicken the pace of change and secure improvements where it counts; at the front line.'

Jane Hutt, minister for health and social services, said: 'The report shows the council has already made improvements in its social services, particularly in children's services. It raises organisational issues for the Council to resolve before it can be sure of further substantial improvement. I am confident the Council will wish to act on the review to provide goo d services to all who need them.'

Chief social services inspector Graham Williams said: 'The Social Services Inspectorate for Wales, together with the Audit Commission, will monitor further progress. The council's well qualified workforce, noted in the review, will be a major asset in further service improvement.'

A press release from the local authority follows:

Wrexham CBC welcomes the report of the joint review. It recognises that such reviews can help to continually improve services for the people of Wrexham.

The report stated that:

* Despite resource limitations, Wrexham has continued to serve some people well. Over 77% of local people agreed that the service they received was 'excellent or 'very good'.

* The expansion of family support services has paid dividends.

* Delayed discharges from hospital are commendably low.

* Investment in staff training and development has resulted in the best-qualified workforce in Wales.

* Morale is generally good.

* Collaboration with Housing is especially noteworthy.

* The authority has given increased priority to performance management as shown by national performance indicators.

* The directorate has done well to keep within tight budgets.

* Senior managers have an open and inclusive style of management.

The report has also identified a number of areas for improvement.

Members of the executive board were today given a presentation highlighting the

outcomes of the review. The presentation highlighted areas where the authority has done particularly well and those areas that need strengthening to initiate further improvements.

Wrexham Council recognises the joint reviews comments that in the past change has been constrained by the political make-up of the authority and investment in social care. However, this is set to change with a larger emphasis on customer care and improved outcomes under the forthcoming change programme to be implemented by the chief executive.

The authority wishe s to respond in a positive and constructive manner and is developing an action plan, which will show how it intends to deliver against these priorities in a robust and timely way. The authority believes it is well placed to achieve its ambitions and build upon the strengths afforded by its well-qualified workforce.

The chief executive, Isobel Garner recognised that the review has set a number of key challenges for the council. She said: 'Reviews such as this helps the authority to continually improve its services for the people of Wrexham. My plans to restructure the top tier of the organisation have now been approved by the full council and as a result there will be a strategic director who has responsibility for health, social care and well being and a strategic director for children and young people. I am keen to support the team as they respond to the comments of the joint review and have encouraged them to make sure their action plan is deliverable and rooted in reality. That does not mean avoiding ambition but stretching targets

and outcomes. However, I will expect them to deliver what they commit to.'

The director of personal services, Malcolm Russell said:, 'we take on board the constructive comments that have been made by the joint review team and now intend to build on them. No other authority in Wales has a higher proportion of qualified staff and I believe that this will stand us in good stead when moving the service forward in the very near future and responding to the views made by the team.'

The leader of Wrexham Council, Shan Wilkinson said: 'I welcome the opportunity to have an external view of our services and we can learn a lot from this report. It is important that in developing an action plan members of the council are involved in finding solutions to some of the problems the review has identified. It isn't just the report - the joint review process itself helped councillors to focus on issues, and we have already decided to do some of the things the report is now suggesting. For example we are spending more on occupational therapy assessments and equipment to help people to stay in their own homes or return home from hospital.'

While the joint review has concluded that Wrexham's prospects for improvement are currently 'uncertain', the council remains committed to providing first class services for all service users, their carers and families.

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