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UNCERTAIN PROSPECTS FOR NE LINCS SOCIAL SERVICES (PLUS COUNCIL'S RESPONSE)

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The social services provided by North East Lincolnshire are serving some people well but have uncertain prospects f...
The social services provided by North East Lincolnshire are serving some people well but have uncertain prospects for improvement, according to a report published by the Audit Commission and Social Services Inspectorate.

Three years ago the authority was judged to be failing, but due to increased political support and a management focus on services in need of development, there has been significant improvement in some areas.

The report, part of a rolling programme of reviews to assess the performance of individual social services departments in England and Wales, found those people who were receiving a service appeared to be 'highly satisfied'. But, a combination of some serious budget risks, the need to turn round areas of low performance, and the slow development of systems to monitor overall performance, have all led to a judgement of uncertain prospects for continued improvement.

Financially, North East Lincolnshire has become more volatile, says the report. There is a need to get better value for money and reduce unit costs in some areas. The continued development of partnerships will also be necessary to tackle this problem.

What is working particularly well at the authority is its developing partnership with health. This link is already delivering improved services for some children and adults with mental health needs, adults with disabilities and for some older people.

Specifically, the report says:

- Child protection has improved substantially but inconsistencies remain across child care services generally

- The authority has a plan to bring down the numbers of both looked-after children and children's external placements

- There is a need to improve the organisation of health and social care services around children with disabilities & with a particular focus on improving access

- The authority has much to do to deliver national targets for supporting adults aged 18-64 at home

- Services for vulnerable adults need to be better targeted to help people remain in their own home

- Services to older people have improved, but there is still room for further improvement

- Managers need to be clearer about using information to improve performance

- The authority has set about improving its recruitment and retention of staff through a workforce strategy

The key to North East Lincolnshire's social services developing further - aside from better management of budgets, the nurturing of a performance management culture and a clearer vision of where its going & is eradicating inconsistencies in services. To help the authority tackle these critical areas, the reviewers have identified a number of priorities for action. They include:

- Deliver the budget recovery plan through the reduction of external placements

- Improve access to services through, for example, the improvement of telephone and e-mail access

- Continue to improve the quality of children's services

- Develop a carers' strategy and consult with users about priorities

- Ensure the delivery of the right mix of home care services

- Move towards integrated community health services

- Improve working with ethnic minority communities through, for example, continuing to work with the Racial Justice forum

Director of Joint Reviews, John Bolton, said:

???We welcome North East Lincolnshire's success in leaving behind the difficulties it experienced after local government reorganisation. There is still a significant challenge for the authority to iron out service discrepancies whilst taking a firm hold of its budget. The authority must strengthen internal performance structures to deliver good responsive services. If these issues are tackled, future prospects for social services should improve.???

A statement from the local authority follows:

COMMITTED TO MEETING CHALLENGES

North East Lincolnshire Council is continuing to make improvements in its social services, the cabinet was told today. A range of inspections and performance assessments were presented including a follow up inspection of child protection services and a joint review by SSI and the Audit Commission on all services.

The key findings presented included:-

- The re-inspection of child protection services found that ???the council had continued to work with determination on implementing improvements and changes.???

- The joint review found that ???from being an authority judged to be failing three years ago, has improved measurably in some areas, due to increased political support and a management focus on those services prioritised for development.???

- The recent assessment of services against national priorities found ???significant progress??? within services to adults.

- That local people rated the services they had received among the best in the country. 83% of the service users and carers completing the joint review questionnaire rated services as ???good??? or ???excellent,??? putting the authority in the top 25% of authorities.

Councillor Len Taylor, leader of the council, commented that the reports illustrate the developments put in place by the council:

???All the reports highlight the progress that the council has made in developing its social services. I???m particularly pleased that local people think highly of the services they receive.

Social care will continue to receive the political attention that is identified by the reports. The council started at a very low base and we still have work to do to continue to improve. I remain committed to delivering these improvements.???

The council accepts it has to meet a continuing challenge to improve. The council remains on special measures for its child protection services, and the council was informed of the targets that it should reach. A further reinspection of child protection services will take place in September 2002.

The joint review suggested that prospects for improvement were ???uncertain??? due to budget risks, the slow development of performance systems, and the need to turn round remaining areas of low performance at a time of significant change for key partners, particularly in health.

Mr Taylor commented:

???These concerns highlight the background against which we need to work. Since the review finished we have demonstrated we can meet these challenges. For example, our health community recently had the best assessment of mental health services in the region.

'At the time of the review the council had just invested£1m in performance management systems and revised its whole approach to best value. It was too early for the benefits of this to be seen by the joint review.???

The council presented a detailed action plan to respond to both the reinspection of child protection and the joint review.

Mr Taylor concluded:

???This council will rise to the continued challenge of improving social services. We have already started to establish better services that are well regarded by local people.

'However, good services are underpinned by the right support systems. We have a lot of work to complete in order to ensure continued and sustainable improvement.

'The political and managerial direction of this authority that has moved from 'failing' is now channelled into ensuring our success in the future.???

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