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Benchmarking Report.

Visual Impairment Benchmarking Study Summary Report.

Introduction.

Background to the project.

In March 2003 the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) in Wales agreed to support the establishment of a benchmarking club to consider visual impairment services in Wales, which had been requested by Wales Council for the Blind (WCB). Alongside ADSS and WCB, the work has been supported by all Welsh local authorities, the Welsh Assembly Government, Social Services Inspectorate in Wales (SSIW), the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) Cymru and various other voluntary organisations working with and for visually impaired people in Wales.

The group embarked upon a detailed benchmarking study which was facilitated by the Syniad Benchmarking Centre, subsequently subsumed into the Improvement and Governance Team of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA). The study provided an opportunity to conduct an assessment and comparison of current levels of capacity and performance levels across Wales.

Benchmarking can serve the following purposes:

A key benefit from the study has been the opportunity to explore crucial links between services for people with visual impairment delivered respectively by social services, other local authority departments, health and partner agencies across sectors. Promoting better joint working will be key in driving up performance and standards in this service area. The benchmarking study builds upon recent work undertaken by ADSS Wales to develop suggested inspection standards for services for people with sensory impairment, and studies undertaken by SSIW on this area of service in Wales. The recommendations and service standards coming from the study are consistent with the generic standards for sensory impairment services identified by ADSS.

Establishing the principles of performance management in the public sector.

In their drive for high quality and responsive local services, both the Assembly and Westminster governments are clearly committed to establishing a culture of performance management within local government and the public sector. The relationship between performance management and benchmarking is close as both seek to:

The relationship between performance management and benchmarking becomes clearer if it is understood that a benchmark is a performance reference point, against which measurement and comparison can be made.

"[Benchmarking is].... a systematic approach to a business improvement where best practice is sought and implemented to improve the process beyond the benchmark performance."

'Benchmarking — the Challenge,' the Department of Trade and Industry, March 1995.

The principles of performance management were formally established within local government under the Best Value framework, which took statutory effect from 1 April 2000.
The Welsh Assembly Government viewed informed comparison as important for an effective Best Value service review.

"Comparisons are an invaluable tool for learning but it is recognised that they are only an approximate means of indicating success and failure. The learning potential of comparison is that they identify differences and allow us to search for explanations of those differences.
The explanations will inform choices on alternative processes, objectives or priorities."

The Local Government Act 1999, National Assembly for Wales Circular 14/2000, Page 17.

The Wales Programme for Improvement, which has superseded Best Value in Wales, maintains a requirement on local authorities to secure continuous improvement in the way in which they exercise their functions. Comparison remains an invaluable tool by which councils can self assess, learn from each other and identify and apply best practice.

Project Scope.

The approach to the benchmarking project was to initially develop a service profile of visual impairment services. This was developed by gathering data from all participating authorities, taking into account:

the organisational location and profile of the function;

Following consideration of these areas, the visual impairment benchmarking club agreed initially to focus its work on the following key areas:

The benchmarking study has provided a welcome opportunity for professionals in the visual impairment field to work together to identify measures which could improve the level and quality of service provision, thereby raising the profile and impact of visual impairment services in Wales. Implementing the recommendations contained in this report will require clear and tangible ownership and commitment by policy makers and managers at both national and local levels. Implementing some of the recommendations may require additional or reallocated funding, but we are confident that the majority are achievable through changed practice and efficiency gains achieved through revised structures and processes, rather than extra cost. Opportunities will also be taken wherever possible to achieve greater efficiency, in the form of higher levels of service delivered with the same amount of resources.

In addition to the report, a set of four Good Practice Guides, containing recommended service standards against key activities, have been produced and will be made available to participating authorities and other interested parties.

The study has benefited from contributions of professionals and stakeholders from a variety of sectors. This gives us confidence that this report provides a route map to vastly improved visual impairment services in Wales, in terms of quality and responsiveness.
For that reason, whilst there will be no compulsion on local authorities to implement the recommendations or meet the standards contained in the Good Practice Guides, we would strongly urge councils to take them on board. In addition to re-evaluating their own services, we would also encourage social services departments to adopt a 'championing' role within their areas, promoting and encouraging better practice not only within their own services, but in other parts of councils and, indeed, among partners in the statutory and community sectors. We also support strongly the development of clear strategies for visual impairment services, and a greater profile for these in higher level plans such as Health, Social Care and Wellbeing Strategies.

The standards and recommended practice emanating from the study will not become part of the formal inspection framework for Social Services Departments and other local authority services. However, inspectors could use them as a tool in assessing councils' progress in these areas when undertaking programmed inspections.

Project Co-ordination.

Syniad Benchmarking Centre was originally commissioned to coordinate and facilitate this study by working with the benchmarking club membership. In June 2004 the Centre closed, responsibility for this and other ongoing benchmarking studies transferring to the Improvement Governance team of the WLGA.

In coordinating the project, the Benchmarking Centre, and latterly the WLGA's Improvement and Governance team, have sought to demonstrate the application and value of benchmarking through performance comparison. The working approach uses the principles of performance management and works through the cycle of:

The Report.

This report has been made available to all organisations that participated in the study, and is available for sale to other interested parties.

The report comes in two parts. The first comprises:

The recommendations have been endorsed by members of the benchmarking group, representing both national and local organisations. Whilst there is no compulsion on local authorities or their national partners to implement the recommendations, the
benchmarking group hopes that as far as practicable they will be taken on board.

Performance measurement in Wales is undergoing a fundamental review, with national and local partners working together to redesign the national set of Performance Indicators (PIs) that all councils are required to report against, and to develop more detailed 'core sets' of PIs in specified areas of service that councils can use for their own monitoring services.
The recommended PIs contained in this report do not form part of either the national or core sets, and their use by councils is entirely a matter of local choice. However, their design has benefited from extensive discussion between practitioners across sectors, and the benchmarking group is of the firm belief that, alongside obligatory PIs they provide a potentially valuable tool for measuring performance, assessing trends and setting future targets.

The second part of the report contains detailed data analysis undertaken as part of the study, and accompanying charts and tables. The detailed analysis is also being made available electronically to authorities who wish to do further analysis at a local authority level.

Two principal themes are covered in the first part of the report. The first theme relates to levels of visual impairment across Wales and corresponding levels of service provision, the different forms that this takes, key areas of variation, and a number of issues that require attention nationally by representative and professional bodies. These will occasionally be issues that are outside the control of local government, which require consideration and attention by national partners, including the National Assembly for Wales and Welsh Local Government Association.

The second theme is about assisting local authorities to achieve continuous improvement in the selected aspects of visual impairment services. Specifically the report aims to assist local authorities to better understand current levels of service and identify opportunities for improved practice.

Next: Executive Summary.

Resources.