Do you remember Investors in People? What about charter marks or quality assurance? There was a time when the public sector was obsessed with the pursuit of quality awards.

‘For those in search of new awards the professional journals offered Oscar-like award ceremonies’

In my case it started with a day centre for people with learning disabilities and a residential care home for polder people. It soon spread to every day centre and every home. The corporate communication team loved it: some good news at last. The councillors were delighted to have their photos taken receiving the awards, the staff of these “Cinderella services” were suddenly getting the recognition they had never had.

Naturally, senior managers wanted more, so soon all teams, all offices and all services we required to get awards. When progress was not as fast as the chief executive wanted a useful shortcut was found. Instead of each individual team or unit applying for accreditation as Investors in People, the whole organisation would demonstrate it’s commitment to quality and be the first local authority to be accredited as a whole organisation, or at least the first big local authority in the region.

Industry Oscars

Investors in People was at least focused on the areas that as a people-oriented business we in social services should have been doing anyway. Communication, training and staff support are essential in health and social care services. It turns out that they are also relevant to office based teams such as admin, IT , contracting and finance.

But for those care homes that already had a charter mark or those teams that had been awarded Investors in People they wanted something else to make them stand out, to again enjoy the positive publicity, recognition and status that went with winning awards.

For those in search of new awards the professional journals offered Oscar-like award ceremonies with gala dinners and prizes in so many different categories that at some ceremonies every nomination was guarantee to win or get a special mention. Of course you had to pay to enter and as a winner you would require a table at the awards dinner, which of course was not cheap.

Quality, not quantity

It got a bit out of hand and a harsher financial climate meant such ostentatious behaviour could attract bad publicity. Nevertheless, this did not stop the disciples of quality assurance promoting quality through consistency, which involved having explicit policies and comprehensive procedures.

This was very popular with the growing number of policy advisers and procedure writers − but the care staff in the day centres and residential homes didn’t see the value in the additional paper work. The new commissioners and contractors thought building quality awards into provider contracts would be a good idea, but not so good that they were prepared to make it financially attractive.

‘Inspections replaced award ceremonies and naming and shaming replaced awards’

By now the chief executive had lost interest in the aim of getting the whole organisation accredited to Investors in People. In fact, this was an initiative of the previous chief executive that had ran out of steam in year three when it was discovered just how slow a convoy had to go if it had to wait till the most reluctant and disinterested unit caught up.

Austerity gradually replaced quality with quantity, which is buying more with less and then buying less with a lot less. Inspections replaced award ceremonies and naming and shaming replaced awards.

Quality has suffered enough. As scandals undermine confidence in the hospitals, care homes and child protection services it is time to bring back quality awards to recognise the exceptional work of some teams, units and wards and in so doing bring back the focus on quality.

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