Cardiff council’s radical social care change aims to raise standards

Cardiff council has unveiled proposals for what it says will be “the most radical step change” in social care in Wales for a generation.

The Labour-run authority wants to launch an arms-length company to provide adult social care in the city – the first scheme of its kind in Wales.

The company, known as Cardiff Cares, would have its own workforce and provide adult care services like domiciliary (at home) care.

The spin-out company would compete for business against private sector care providers, which the council believes will help lift standards in the industry.

It hopes to improve care provided to Cardiff’s elderly and vulnerable by ensuring the staff are better paid and motivated than those currently in the private sector.

The council spends about £104m a year on adult social care. Of this, about £70m a year – almost 70% – is commissioned to external companies.

A report being presented to Cabinet on Thursday said the system of competitive tendering pushes down prices and, as a consequence, depresses the pay and conditions of care workers.

It says the process of awarding large contracts, based largely on price, contributes to “the race to the bottom” because return to shareholders is the key driver for private firms.

Councillor Luke Holland, Cabinet member for adult services, said the current system was “not fit for purpose”.

He said care provided to some of the most vulnerable people in the city “should and can be better”.

“I believe these proposals, if implemented, will improve services, end the race to the bottom on terms and conditions for those people providing care, whilst freeing up resource to invest in vital services,” Splott’s Labour ward councillor said.

“Crucially, we would do this while bringing the delivery of social care back closer to the council.”

A return to the days of the council providing adult social care itself, however, has been ruled out as too expensive.

Cardiff Cares would take overall responsibility for managing the provision of adult care services which the council currently commissions, either through direct services or arrangements with other providers.

Similar schemes have been launched by councils in Glasgow and Essex.

According to Essex council, Essex Cares – the first company set up by a local authority to provide social care services – has supports 115,000 people a year and has a 100% satisfaction rate.

In 2010/11 – two years after it was created – Essex Cares reported a £3.5m profit, allowing the company to pay a dividend to the council as sole shareholder.

On Thursday, the Cabinet will agree to set up of a task force to examine how the care market in Cardiff can be modernised by “reducing significantly or abandoning the council’s reliance on competitive tendering”.

One way the council believes the reliance on large contracts with private firms can be reduced is to encourage more service users to make “direct payments”.

In the first year, the council hopes to double the number of people making direct payments, which allow people to have control over the services they receive.

The Social Care Modernisation Task Force, which will be made up of various stakeholders, will report back in May before setting out the first steps for change in July.