Home care set to be privatised

Controversial plans to privatise home care support for thousands of elderly people in Norfolk look set to get the green light on Monday.Members of the county council's ruling cabinet are being asked to approve the plans which would see 80pc of care hours supplied by the private sector and the remaining 20pc of in house care focussed on intensive short term support.

Controversial plans to privatise home care support for thousands of elderly people in Norfolk look set to get the green light on Monday.

Members of the county council's ruling cabinet are being asked to approve the plans which would see 80pc of care hours supplied by the private sector and the remaining 20pc of in house care focussed on intensive short term support.

About 6,000 people a week receive a visit from a carer. But with demand set to increase by 12pc by 2012 and by 45pc a decade later, County Hall is looking at ways of maintaining the same levels of service while relieving the pressure on the public purse.

Union leaders, who are opposed to the move, are seeking a meeting with councillors before Monday's cabinet convenes to press for a fuller public consultation on the issue amid fears the changes will lead to pay and pension cuts for hundreds of staff.

And they are angry at plans to save 4.55m in staff costs by avoiding transfer rules known as 'TUPE' which would honour carers' current pay and conditions.

Alison Birmingham, Unison steward at County Hall, said: “There has been no consultation on whether Norfolk County Council should withdraw from providing direct care. This is the more important decision.

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“All service users and carers should have the right to say what they think about the county council ceasing to be the provider of their care.”

Chris Mowle, cabinet member for adult social services, said the move was needed to meet massive increases in demand caused by the county's rising grey population.

But it would be phased in gradually over seven years to minimise any disruption to users and staff and the driving force was to make better use of existing resources.

“The people who are getting the service now are unlikely to see any change at all,” he said. “There is going to be no real savings in the long term, the money we have got will be spent on providing care for more people.”

And he said he was keen to take on board opposition suggestions to look at the not for profit 'social enterprise' model as a possible alternative to outright privatisation.

“We are looking at the social enterprise model of Sunderland Home Care,” he said. “If you look at our track record with arms length companies like Norfolk County Services and NPS, it's very good. If we can do that with home care as well, it would be a major plus.

“As councillors need to be very strong to ensure there is a high quality of care,” he said. “I have suggested a working group of all the parties to look at how we monitor this and ensure that the quality of care is driven up.”