Failing social services are to be targeted by 'hit squads'

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The Independent Online
MINISTERS WILL today threaten to introduce controversial hit squads to take over social services departments which are failing children and the elderly.

The measure will form part of a Green Paper to raise standards of social care. It will include plans to publish a series of 46 performance tables covering services ranging from child protection to care for the elderly.

"It would need to be primary legislation and we want to introduce a Bill at the earliest possible opportunity," a ministerial source said.

The reforms, to be announced in the Green Paper, A New Approach to Social Services Performance, follow a report last year by Sir William Utting into a series of child-abuse cases during the Seventies and Eighties.

Haunted by the scandals, ministers are determined to tackle continuing anxiety about the record of local authorities for poor social services.

The failures have included Labour-controlled Hackney in east London, where a social worker abused six children in care before he died of Aids, and systematic problems in child care in Labour-controlled Ealing, also in London - described last year by the then health minister Paul Boateng as one of the worst cases he had seen.

The Green Paper warns that the Government will seek primary legislation to give it wider powers to intervene where necessary to require an authority to draw up an action plan for improvement and deliver a specified level of performance by a set deadline; to force an authority to accept external management help; and, in the most serious cases, for responsibility to be transferred to another authority or another management team to run the services.

It says: "The Government will work to help authorities to tackle poor performance and will act in partnership with the Local Government Association where appropriate. Where there are serious failures, the Government will be prepared to take firm action to secure improvement, including statutory intervention powers which will be exercised when necessary.

"The Government will act to protect vulnerable people who are put at risk by poor services and it will ensure that it has the statutory powers at its disposal to do this."

A spokesman for the Labour-controlled Local Government Authority said yesterday: "The Government is seeking Draconian powers. We want to raise standards through co-operation."

Ministers will be seeking the powers in a major bill on social services in the next Queen's Speech, but they are hoping to persuade authorities to tackle failing services before they require central intervention from Whitehall.