Union leaders attack Norfolk County Council over cuts

Union leaders have criticised Norfolk County Council bosses after the value of a care contract was c

Union leaders have criticised Norfolk County Council bosses after the value of a care contract was cut. - Credit: Archant

Union leaders have claimed vulnerable people will suffer because Norfolk County Council has cut the value of a contract which provides specialist health services for those with learning disabilities.

And leaders at UNISON say staff who work for the Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust are facing pay cuts and redundancies because of the council's actions.

However, bosses at Norfolk County Council hit back, saying government cuts left the authority with no choice but to pare back budgets and reduce the funding for the specialist community learning disabilities health service.

Jeff Keighley, regional organiser for UNISON accused the county council of taking away dedicated money for specialist services.

He said: 'They have placed the existing health provider in the position of making cost saving of £960,000 to cover the loss. This has lead to the NHS trust planning pay cuts and redundancies.

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'They have had to downskill the workforce's job descriptions to reduce their pay. It will not be the same service and vulnerable people will suffer.'

He said the unions had invited commissioners Stephen Rogers and Clive Rennie to discuss the issue at a meeting last week, but they declined to attend.

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But Harold Bodmer, director of adult social services at Norfolk County Council, said the budget was not ring fenced and, in tough times, the service could not be exempt from scrutiny.

He said: 'Faced with a £91m cut in government grant and a rising demand for services, the county council has had no choice but to examine all budget areas in order to plug a predicted £189m funding gap.

'A public consultation called Putting People First on options for budget reductions was held in late 2013 which examined various ways in which the council could prioritise services and save money in the light of its own budget reductions.

'In February, the council confirmed the decision that funding for the Specialist Community Learning Disabilities Health Service would reduce by £960,000 per annum.

'This is a 14pc reduction of the Learning Difficulties specialist health-commissioned services. The remaining budget is around £3.84m.'

He said the council and the health and care trust had agreed an updated service specification. That changes the current arrangement where people with a learning disability will get home visits from health staff, whether or not they can use mainstream services.

He added: 'Both the county council and Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust are fully committed to providing a safe, high quality service which is sustainable within the funding available.'

Mark Easton, interim chief executive at Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, said: 'In light of the reduced funding now available, we remain fully committed to providing a safe, high quality service, which is sustainable and delivers the best possible care.

'An extended staff consultation is currently underway to ensure we are able to fully gather their views and we continue to work with our staff and unions to do all we can to find the best solution for local clients.'

• Do you have a story about a local council? Call public affairs correspondent Dan Grimmer on 01603 772375 or email dan.grimmer@archant.co.uk

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