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Some people are well served by Buckinghamshire CC social services, but prospects for improvement are currently unce...
Some people are well served by Buckinghamshire CC social services, but prospects for improvement are currently uncertain, according to a report published today by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate.

Users' experiences of social services are mixed. Some are positive and the reviewers saw evidence of effective casework, relatively high numbers of people receiving complex packages of care and some good quality services.

Other users encountered serious delays in getting assessments and receiving services to meet their needs. Budget pressures, service availability and workload pressures on frontline staff account for this.

The report is part of a rolling programme of joint reviews designed to assess the performance of individual social service authorities in England and Wales. In order to progress towards the goal of improved services for all users, Buckinghamshire needs to improve its strategic and service planning process and put in place a comprehensive performance management system which integrates best value into the whole process.

Specifically the report says:

- In children's services, responses to high priority cases are improving, although there are gaps and shortfalls for other children;

- Pressures on frontline teams are having an impact on service users. For adults this results in delays in getting help and serious backlogs in checking up how things are going once services have started;

- There is a shortage of some key services for people. Lack of affordable residential and nursing home places for older people and shortage of foster placements for looked after children are two such services. Home-based and preventive services need more development in order to support people's independence better;

- Some people's needs are well met and there are some innovative services. For example a multi-agency rapid response service for young people at risk of family breakdown;

- Budget pressures need longer term best value solutions in order to tackle in an integrated way demand, costs and resource issues;

- The council has shown its commitment to establishing strategic partnerships across the council and with health. It now needs to ensure these partnerships deliver what is required.

The review has identified a number of priorities for action that are key to delivering improved social services to the people of Buckinghamshire. They include:

- doing the basic tasks of assessment, planning and review to a consistently good standard across the county;

- ensuring the new structures in the council work well, by defining new roles and accountabilities and checking workloads are fair and reasonable;

- building upon the strategic partnership arrangements now in place, and the progress in joint working using Health Act flexibilities;

- Improving strategic planning systems by, for example, linking plans for services better with finances and future workforce needs;

- Improving the arrangements in place to ensure staff and services are delivering the performance intended by the council;

- Developing clearer commissioning strategies that gear the council up to matching services better to the needs of the community.

Sue Mead, assistant review director, Joint Reviews said:

'Staff and managers at the council are committed and hard-working, but there are many issues that Buckinghamshire needs to address in order to deliver consistently good social services to local people. Although some people are getting a good service, overall there are too many delays and gaps. There are new structural arrangements in place in the county, the focus must now be on improving the responsiveness of the council to those people who need its help.'

A press release from the local authority follows.

Plan outlines further improvements to Social Services in Buckinghamshire

A draft action plan aimed at further improving social care in Buckinghamshire was outlined today, on the same day as a major report on social services was published.

The Joint Review report identifies a number of strengths as well as areas for improvement.

It concludes Buckinghamshire is 'serving some people well but prospects for the future were uncertain'.

The Action Plan is Social Services' response to the findings of the review team and underlines the Council's commitment to modernisation and improving services to all service users.

Last month Buckinghamshire was praised by health minister Jacqui Smith for its hard work in improving local social services and the promising prospects for further improvement.

A number of improvements have already been achieved since the review was carried out including:

* partnerships with the local health sector resulting in the launch of new integrated services for mental health and learning disability clients in Buckinghamshire in July

* a new information system that will improve management information and data

* new decision making structures covering services for Adult Care and Children

* reductions in the number of looked after children and those on the Child Protection Register due to better planning and family support

* significant improvements in completing Child Protection Reviews within timescale

* a new Commissioning Unit being set up to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of providing care services for adults

* launch of a new Young Peoples Substance Misuse Service in September

Hugh Carey, cabinet member for adult social care, said:

'We welcome this external assessment of our services. As well as the many examples of good practice identified by the team we acknowledge that there are areas that need improving.

'Our action plan and star rating shows that we have already started to meet many of the recommendations outlined by the inspection team and I am confident that staff and managers will continue the excellent work that has gone into achieving change so far.'

Margaret Aston, cabinet member for children and young people, said:

'We were pleased to see that the inspectors acknowledged the difficulties faced by social services as a result of budget pressures, the rising demand for its services and the pressures this created for our staff.

'The joint review report endorses our vision for social services in Buckinghamshire and will help shape future priorities and services in partnership with the community.'

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