Controversy over new Norfolk care shake-up idea

Older and vulnerable people in Norfolk could have their care services provided by a social enterprise run by 500 staff currently employed by the county council, if a radical proposal gets the go-ahead.

Bosses at Norfolk County Council have previously said the council is shifting away from providing services such as day care, respite care and personal assistants directly, to commissioning others to run them.

But they have now proposed creating a social enterprise, which county council staff would transfer to and have a stake in, to provide those services.

While the precise details have yet to be drawn up, if the idea gets off the ground, then the social enterprise would be a community interest companies - a special type of limited company whose main purpose is social good rather than making profits.

At a meeting of the county council's community services overview and scrutiny panel today, councillors agreed in principle to the notion, with council officers saying staff were supportive of the switch, which would see them move over to the new company.

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But trade union UNISON took issue with the claim that staff are in favour of the move, saying that is not the impression they get from their members.

At yesterday's meeting, Conservative county councillor Roger Smith, who chaired a working party looking at the issue, said his visits to day centres in Lowestoft, run by a social enterprise contracted by Suffolk County Council had left him 'very encouraged' by the idea of Norfolk County Council doing likewise.

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He said: 'This social enterprise would be the biggest we have set up, with a spend of �12m to �13m and 500 staff, so this is a major area of operation.

'We have to move with all possible speed to get the support mechanisms set up and get this launched. We cannot afford to fail.'

But George Nobbs, leader of the Labour group, questioned whether staff really were supportive and why there needed to be such a rush to get a potentially risky venture running.

Officers said from discussions with staff, there were 'positives and negatives' raised by workers, but they were supportive 'on the whole'.

Liberal Democrat councillor James Joyce said he supported the scheme, but said: 'It's the staff who are most important. If staff buy into this it will work and if they don't, it won't.'

Speaking after the meeting, Alison Birmingham, UNISON's senior steward for adult social care, said: 'There has been no poll of what staff want, so it is difficult to see how they would be engaged in this.

'It is difficult to see how this will save money, except by driving down wages and renting premises back to the staff.'

The council's cabinet will consider the proposal next month, but further work will need to be done to figure out exactly how the social enterprise would work.

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