Tories on '˜autopilot' with '˜rushed' social care contract outsourcing

Tories at County Hall are on '˜autopilot' with a '˜rushed' decision to continue outsourcing a critical £15m social care contract, according to Labour councillors.

Labour's Michael Jones has called the decision to continue outsourcing critical social care services 'rushed'
Labour's Michael Jones has called the decision to continue outsourcing critical social care services 'rushed'

A five-year contract to run community reablement services in West Sussex, supporting residents to retain or regain their independence, was awarded to Essex Cares Limited (ECL) back in 2012 after it was the only company to bid for it.

Now West Sussex County Council is due to put the service back out to tender for private contractors to bid for the contract.

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However Labour councillors have raised concerns about the underperformance and underspend of the contract, and a perceived lack of evidence to dismiss insourcing the contract and bringing the service back in-house.

They have called-in the cabinet member’s decision to put the contract out to tender and as a result it will be discussed by the county council’s Health and Adult Social Care Committee next Wednesday (January 18).

Michael Jones (Lab, Southgate and Crawley Central) said: “This is a Tory council on auto-pilot, ignoring the experiences of the past and in severe danger of repeating past mistakes unnecessarily.

“This report does not tell us any of the actions taken to remedy ECL’s poor performance, how effective those actions might have been and how much they have cost the council.

“We’re not told how much the council has spent procuring or managing the contract. It does not compare these costs against the possible extra cost of bringing it back in-house, such as improved staff terms and conditions. It’s the deterioration of these due to outsourcing that has prevented the service running at maximum capacity in the first place.

“This decision has been rushed. Two alternative options were ruled out because there was supposedly no time to thoroughly assess their credibility.

“It’s yet another example of this Tory council’s inability to effectively procure high quality services or write rigorous contracts.

“Even its own internal audit service could only give it ‘limited assurance’ for commissioning in 2015 and 70 per cent of that assurance had still to be cleared in June last year.

“We continue to lack faith in the current structure and staffing levels to procure and manage contracts.

“We insist councillors are given ample time to scrutinise and discuss this report before any final decision is taken to re-tender the reablement contract.

“We want the current decision withdrawn until we see the results of market testing so the council can make a fully-informed decision.

“We must decide on evidence, not assumptions that the current failed approach can be made to work and that Council-provided services could do no better.”

According to the original officers’ report the contract comes to an end in September 2017, with officers recommending the tendering of a new three-year contract with an option to extend to five. The maximum total value of the contract would be £15m.

The report argues that the option to bring reablement services back in-house is ‘not available to the county council in the short term as commissioning plans and joint procurement planning with the NHS commissioning bodies will need more time to develop than is available before the Council has to commence procurement of the service’

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