Calls to make sure Norfolk care shake-up is properly monitored
Councillors in Norfolk want
Norfolk County Council wants to team up with its commercial offshoot, Norse, to form a new company, Newco, to replace the existing 26 residential homes with six specialist dementia units and 10 new housing-with-care schemes, on top of the 13 which have already been built.
The plans have cross-party and trade union support, but opposition councillors have voiced concerns about handing the contract directly to Norse, and also wanted to see the detailed legal case to support the plans.
Norfolk Independent Care, the umbrella group representing the independent and private sector, has also raised fears about the scale of the plans, which they believe could give Newco an unfair advantage.
Members of the council's community services overview and scrutiny panel looked at the business case in detail amid concerns about how councillors would keep a close enough eye on the new firm.
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Most of the meeting was held behind closed doors because of issues surrounding commercial confidentiality, but councillors heard that a liaison panel, comprising of members and 'stakeholders' would oversee the running of the contract - though the panel could not agree who should be on it and whether all opposition parties should be included.
Labour group leader George Nobbs, said he was concerned about the lack of transparency in the process of selecting Norse, adding that given the recent collapse of the Connaught deal with Norwich City Council, the county council needed to be careful before handing over such a large contract.
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'I'm not saying they are going to go bust, but during the past 12 years when there has been a massive amount of public funding, Norse did not make a profit and I think Norse is going to find it much more difficult in this environment,' Mr Nobbs said.
'We support the idea of this option being a separate company, but what we are concerned about is that it would be part of a huge group of companies. This is like a Russian doll with Norse going to do the catering and this and that, you are not only giving the contract to Norse, but Norse is giving the other aspects within the contract to itself.'
James Joyce, Liberal Democrat spokesman for community services, said: 'We totally support this way forward, my question is how this is handled internally by Norfolk County Council.'
Harold Bodmer, director of community services at Norfolk County Council, said the aim of the proposed deal was to ensure there was an appropriate mix of care provision across the county to get best value for the authority and users, and there would be proper governance procedures in place to ensure the smooth running of the contract.
'We are looking to increase provision over the next 15 years and the bulk of that will be picked up by the independent sector,' Mr Bodmer said. 'We are also proposing that we market test each provision on a case-by-case basis. That will make sure we get best value as we go along and provides an opportunity for the independent sector to play a part in the redevelopment of the existing estate as well as Norse.