Council expected to ditch e-auctions in social care field

SOUTH Lanarkshire Council is expected to abandon its use of a controversial internet auction process for social care contracts.

Sources have told the News the decision to scrap the much-criticised tendering system will be announced at the local authority’s social work committee meeting due to be held on June 17.

The move comes in the same week MSPs branded the auctions “morally repugnant”.

SLC launched an inquiry into home care services two months ago, following a BBC investigation into the standards provided by certain care companies hired by the council, mainly Domiciliary Care.

The Panorama programme also highlighted the role reverse auctions play in driving down the cost of care, which can lead to a drop in standards.

The News first published concerns over so-called ‘e-auctions’ over a year ago when the council first used the system.

The reverse auction was open for 45 minutes and allowed firms to bid the lowest hourly rate for care, with bid decrements of just 5p. Critics of the system have dubbed it ‘e-bay in reverse’ and claim it drives down the wages for those employed by the firms and, as a result, compromises the standards of care.

Some respected local care providers said at the time of the auction they were unable to bid for contracts as the hourly rates for care was so low they would have been unable to pay staff.

It is understood the winning bid for one particular contract was less than £10 an hour.

A mid-range price for home care services provided by the voluntary sector is said to cost between £14 and £18 an hour.

MSP Andy Kerr, who introduced e-tendering to the Scottish Parliament for the procurement of items such as stationery, said at the time he never envisaged the system being used for issues as sensitive and important as personal care contracts.

The Panorama investigation highlighted the disturbing case of 78-year-old East Kilbride resident Andrew Wilson, who received care on behalf of the council by Domiciliary.

Hidden camera footage showed he was fed mainly a diet of crisps, hadn’t had a bath or shower for six months, and received visits from carers lasting only a matter of minutes.

Both SLC and Domiciliary launched an immediate investigation.

Findings from the council’s probe will be revealed at the social work committee on June 17.