Home care privatisation not working, claims union

HOME care services for the elderly and disabled are being seriously disrupted as a private company brought in by councillors fails to fulfil its contract.

Independent Living Services (ILS) was commissioned by Highland Council to deliver 1700 hours of care per week in the Inverness area. But major problems with staff recruitment and retention mean it is falling short by 200 hours.

The gaps are being filled by council staff but appointment times have had to be changed and there is no continuity of care. Ironically, ILS’s problems have been partly caused by staff moving into better-paid roles with the local authority.

Last night the trade union Unison called on councillors to re-think their home care strategy.

“We did express concerns whether contractors would be able to fulfil their commitment. As you can see, they have not,” a spokesman said.

“Here we have the council awarding a private contract for a job which it can do very well itself — and then having to step in to help the contractor out. Why didn’t they do it themselves in the first place?”

Senior social work managers have held urgent talks with ILS and acknowledge there has been disruption and inconvenience for service users. Although these are continuing, both sides insist action is being taken to resolve the situation as soon as possible. It is understood the company will improve pay rates in a bid to retain staff who are currently paid much less than the council’s home carers.

Bill Alexander, the authority’s social work director, conceded a 200 hours shortfall was “significant”.

“There will have been disruption to some people’s care arrangements,” he said. “Simply the fact that someone has not had a consistent carer is very unhelpful.

“That is why we had to have urgent and critical discussions. ILS have responded quickly and formally and I am certainly content with their response.”

Councillor Margaret Davidson, social work committee chairwoman, believes pay is key to the issue.

She said some former ILS staff had taken up jobs with the council which offers better terms and conditions. The hourly rate for council’s staff ranges from £8.96 to £10.10, including evening and weekend enhancements, whereas ILS rates across Scotland range between £6.15 to £8.50.

“I am pleased to hear ILS propose to pay the staff more,” Councillor Davidson said. “There are still opportunities out there for recruiting people, I am sure — if you offer people better terms and conditions.”

Robin Sidebottom, group operations director for ILS, described the difficulties as “a short-term blip” and that a recruitment drive was proving successful.

Already, 16 new people have been recruited with more due to undergo their induction at the end of this month.

“We have committed to have the hours back up to full (quota) by the middle of October at the very latest,” said Mr Sidebottom who is meeting staff in Tain today(tues)..

“We recognise across the business — not just in Inverness — our need to do more to keep people happy.”