Democratic accountability and transparency
Somerset County Council should be acutely aware that outsourcing erodes democratic
accountability and transparency and limits effective public scrutiny of contracts and
There is a danger that a social enterprise is not regarded as a ‘contractor’, but legally, financially and operationally that is precisely what it is.
Comprehensive governance, contract management, monitoring and scrutiny
arrangements must be put in place and costed.
In-house option and capability sidelined at the start
The Council was negligent in failing to prepare a forward-looking in-house proposal
inclusive of a Public Service Innovation and Improvement Plan. This should have been
jointly prepared by the Council, staff, trade unions, families, service users, carers
and community organisations and would have cost a fraction of the procurement costs. It
could have better addressed needs, improved capabilities, increased effectiveness and
efficiency and enhanced public service operational delivery.
The public cost of ideology
The Cabinet and public appendices (11 July 2016) confirm the absence of savings and the potential increased costs.
The continuation of austerity policies, increased poverty and inequalities are likely to increase demand for Learning Disability services.
Meanwhile, Dimensions increased its ‘cash at bank and in hand’ by 28% to £18.2m in the
2014-15 financial year, which raises the question why it holds large reserves of cash?
Objectives ignore reality and make sweeping assumptions
There is a fundamental gap between the Council’s aspirational objectives (Appendix A)
and the second column that describes Dimension’s plans, proposals and statements as
facts, but devoid of any awareness that they may not be achieved or fulfilled. It indicates
a bonded and trusted relationship between Somerset managers and the contractor, which is usually regarded as poor procurement practice.
User/community preference ignored
90% of responses to the Learning Disability consultation in 2013 said they preferred
Option 1 –
“Leave things as they are. The Learning Disabilities Provider Service would continue to be owned and run by the County Council”
(Learning Disability Services in Somerset: Summary of Responses, 2013).
The percentage in favour would have been even higher if it had been presented as a ‘new, improved in-house service’ instead of a negative ‘business as usual’ approach. Responses to the transfer of all or some services to a new publicly owned trust or not for profit organisation (76%) or to other care providers (56%) would have obtained even less support.
Quality of jobs, terms and conditions
A common pattern is evident in outsourcing adult social care services irrespective of the
organisational status of the contractor (for example, Your Choice Barnet). It consists of
cuts in service provision despite assurances; new or increased user charges; job losses
in direct provision and support services; downward regrading of jobs for existing and new
staff; reduction in earnings; enforced switch from defined benefit to defined contribution
Sustainability of a social enterprise model
Outsourcing does not secure the long-term sustainability of the services. It does so only
for the contract period and sustainability is highly dependent on contractor performance.
What happens if the social enterprise fails to retain the contract when it is retendered and
it is left with significant pension liabilities?
Will there be clarity over the ownership and revaluation of assets after the rationalisation programme is completed? These are important issues that must not be lost in political expediency to outsource the service.