Lesson to be learnt about who's best at delivering public services?

By Mick Scrimshaw on December 14, 2016

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Y esterday the County Council took the decision to cut funding for people with dementia to attend two specialist day care centres in Northampton. The contract to pay for people to use the two centres was with Olympic Care (the council’s own company set up to provide social care) who are highly regarded and often held up by the council as an example of good practice. Instead the users will be offered the chance to use two other facilities which are currently underused, run under a contract with the private provider Shaw Healthcare.

The parents and carers of the users of the service took turns in addressing the council’s cabinet to express their concerns and saying in particular of the Drayton Centre, how excellent it was, how impressed and how pleased they were of its facilities and staff, and how some of them had had experience with one of the Shaw Healthcare facilities they were being asked to use and of their concerns about the service offered there. In fact the concerns were so great that during the actual meeting Shaw, who were obviously watching the debate on the webcast, actually contacted the chair of the committee to complain their reputation was being damaged.

The public argued that both the contracts with Olympus and Shaw were currently under used but more people attended the Olympus services than Shaw, especially at the Drayton Centre which specialised in dementia care and as the leader of the Labour group told the committee, was an “excellent example” of best practice. They couldn’t understand why the smaller number of users from the Shaw Healthcare centres were not being asked to use the Olympus ones, which most people regarded as much better, rather than the other way round.

The answer of course came down to money with the leader of the council explaining the contract they had with Shaw was impossible (too expensive?) to get out of.

Residents pleaded with councillors to defer any decision until they had had the opportunity to look more closely at the issue, pointing out that the report in front of them had not raised many of the things they spoke about and questioned the point of carrying out any public consultation when they were going to ignore the results which overwhelmingly supported the view of the public expressed at the meeting.

The arguments from the cares and opposition councillors who also spoke against the decision was so overwhelming, for a minute it I thought the cabinet would agree to defer the issue for a couple of months perhaps to look at the issue in more depth, even though I have never known them to do that before, but I should have known better and they reverted to form and accepted the recommendation on financial grounds, saying they had no choice although they were deeply concerned by some of the things they had heard and promised to work with Shaw Healthcare to improve things.

The lesson I came away with I’m afraid was the simple one, that if the council wants to keep direct control over the type and quality of the service it provides it needs to think very carefully before asking other third party providers to do it for them.

Mick Scrimshaw is the Leader of the Labour Group at Kettering Borough Council, the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance at Northamptonshire County Council. He has a public record of standing up for Kettering as a County Councillor for the Northall division in Kettering, Northants and since May 2015, a Borough Councillor for the William Knibb ward. He is a keen cyclist and also runs a family business with his wife.

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