Trade unionists have launched a stinging attack on Wigan Council’s social care shake-up which could involve outsourcing provision.
Wigan Trades Council accused senior Labour councillors and civil servants of doing the Conservative Government’s work of cutting and privatising after a report on the changes was accepted by cabinet.
The organisation even suggested elected representatives in favour of outsourcing should leave Labour’s ranks and re-stand for election wearing a blue rosette.
The local authority is set to save around £300,000 per year under the plans, which include private contractors taking on work providing extra care services in the borough.
The trades council said the town hall needed to do far more to protect public sector jobs and frontline services rather than allowing private firms in and said the general election result suggested a move away from austerity.
We’re facing a very weak Government and a reinvigorated Labour Party and yet Wigan Council is undermining LabourBarry Conway
However, Wigan Council leader Lord Smith firmly defended the decisions taken as necessary to ensure residents receive the best-possible care in a time of budget cuts.
Wigan Trades Council delegate Barry Conway said: “We’re facing a very weak Government and a reinvigorated Labour Party and yet Wigan Council is undermining Labour. Instead of saying ‘we are not making cuts and privatising and challenging the Government’ they are just rolling over, which I think is absolutely disgraceful.
“If councillors want to implement cuts why don’t they join the Tory party and then stand for election on the platform of cutting jobs and wages? The council could start using its reserves, stop the cuts and have meetings across the borough to get support from residents.
“Some Conservative-run councils in the south do a better job of challenging the Government than this one and I don’t think that’s something the people of Wigan expect.”
But Lord Smith said: “As a council we have to operate within the constraints of the Government and although Labour did better they didn’t win the election, so we are still subject to financial constraints. If we want to provide good-quality services for carers and in particular for residents then working within the Wigan Deal and changing the way we operate will give them a better deal than we’ve had before.
“This isn’t a cost-saving measure. These are local organisations who will provide good employment and they will have to be ethical providers assuring us the way they work is proper. The criteria we use for this is approved by Unison.
“We will not have any fly-by-night operations.”
The report on outsourcing extra care services suggested there may be “minimal” job losses due to the changes in running three residential sites for people with mental illnesses in the borough. This, it suggested, would enable the local authority to concentrate in-house services on residents with complex needs requiring more support.
Jo Willmott, assistant director for provider management and market development, said: “The transformation of extra care is about improving the health and wellbeing of local people, and connecting them to their local communities in line with the principles of The Deal.
“We have carried out an extensive consultation with residents and their families, with positive feedback about the compassionate care previously received, but it was identified that a significant number of improvements are required such as – more activities, more community cohesion, more flexibility, more capacity around wellbeing and a better night time offer.
“As we are refocusing our housing provision on people with more complex and challenging needs, we propose that extra care is delivered through an external partner, identified through a robust tender exercise which involves residents and their families.
“Wigan Council is committed to the growth, rather than reduction, of our in-house services where it meets our strategic direction. A new centre of excellence for people with autism is being developed by our in-house service.
“We have worked with trade union colleagues and developed a vibrant market of ethical and creative external providers through the introduction of the ethical community services framework.
“The majority of providers on the framework are small scale and locally based, not big national providers.”