Aberdeen City Council tables plan for trust to handle elderly care

Aberdeen City Council has tabled radical new plans to move its care services for the elderly into a special trust, it can be revealed.

Local authority officials want to create a new company – like Aberdeen Performing Arts or Sport Aberdeen – to run services for older people in the city.

The move would allow the council to scrap cost-cutting proposals to close two Aberdeen residential homes, as well as cuts at two day centres and the privatisation of the city’s home care service.

Councillors will discuss the establishment of a new trust at Thursday’s key budget meeting, when more than £70million of savings are expected to be agreed for the next five years.

Elected members called for more information on plans to close Fergus House, at Dyce, and Balnagask House, in Torry, when the authority’s five-year plan was initially discussed in December.

They also wanted extra details before reaching a final decision on the proposed outsourcing of care-at-home services.

In a new report, published yesterday, officers have now recommended dropping the plans and agreeing to establish a special “trading arm” for the department instead.

Councillor Jim Kiddie, convener of the social work committee, said: “They are already doing this in Essex and it seems to be quite successful. I think they found they could deliver it more cheaply and more effectively.

“It is very much akin to Aberdeen Performing Arts or Sport Aberdeen.

“We have discussed it with the staff and the trade unions and it is something the staff seemed to be quite enthused about.”

Aberdeen Performing Arts was set up as a charitable company in 2004 to run HM Theatre, the Music Hall and the Lemon Tree, while the council moved the majority of its leisure facilities into Sport Aberdeen last year.

Mr Kiddie said: “Outsourcing would be going out to competitive tender and a private company would take it up. We would have councillors on the board. Then you’ve got directors who have an expertise in running that kind of thing.

“The council would still be purchasing services from the arm’s-length company and would still be forming the policy. This would just be the delivery method.”

Essex County Council created “Essex Cares” in July 2009 to manage 850 former local authority staff from several departments.

Councillor Thomas Constantine Smith-Hughes, leader of the Essex authority’s opposition Liberal Democrat group, said: “It is actually working quite well.

“The opportunity for a trading company is to start selling services to better-off people who can afford it. If there are any profits made, it comes back to the council and reinvested in services.”

A spokesman for the Age Scotland charity said: “Innovative thinking by Aberdeen Council about how services for older people are delivered is welcome if it means these are protected from cutbacks.

“However, it would be unfortunate should the council miss the opportunity to give charities and social enterprises – the third sector – a chance to tender for delivery of these services.”