In February 2014 Cabinet decided to explore the creation of a Social Enterprise Partnership to potentially deliver Learning Disabilities Services in the future.
In making this decision Cabinet was aware that; “…there was significant support from both customers and carers for the existing service…” with the majority of respondents (54.1%) in the consultation with customers stating that they would prefer that the service remain with the Council. Only 33.8% indicated a preference for the service to be delivered by a new organisation legally independent from the Council such as a Social Enterprise.
However, Cabinet decided that given the perceived limitations of the in-house service, that they should explore procuring an external provider. The stated purpose was “…about ensuring sustainable high quality services for people with a learning disability into the future…there are no savings targets associated with this decision…”
In making this decision Cabinet confirmed that the vision for Learning Disability Services was:
- People with learning disabilities and their families will have more control over their services.
- People with learning disabilities and their families can make more day to day choices.
- People with learning disabilities are helped to have the same opportunities as everyone else.
- The buildings people live in are high quality and fit for purpose.
- Services are good value for money.
And the stated outcomes the Council wanted achieve for these services:
- Services that are sustainable – both now and in the foreseeable future.
- Services that actively engage and involve customers and carers at every level.
- Services that embed a person centred approach and ethos in everything they do.
- Services that people choose when using a Personal Budget.
- Services that can respond flexibly to meet current and future demand.
- Services that have the skills and capacity to support people in crisis.
Cabinet acknowledged at the same meeting the significant concerns raised “…about the impact that any change might have upon customers, particularly if the disruption caused by the transferring of staff or establishing new working practices affected day to day routines…”
In July 2016 Cabinet decided to give delegated authority to award the contract on the terms stated in the Cabinet meeting for Learning Disabilities Services to Dimensions again citing a similar vision and outcomes to those identified in the February 2014 meeting. At the same time Cabinet was aware “…after financial submissions had been received that there was a reduction to a single bidder…”
Since this decision was reached and initial contracts signed, UNISON is concerned that the focus has become entirely on cost reduction rather than meeting the agreed vision and outcomes.
Dimensions have advised UNISON that they propose measures to:
- Review provision of day services which may result in closures in some situations.
- Employ more relief workers-UNISON is concerned about the impact increased use of relief workers would have on continuity of service which we know customers value highly.
- Reduce both salary and non salary Terms and Conditions across the whole workforce.
- Restructure huge swathes of the workforce with a considerable number of proposed resultant vacancies and asking staff to take on responsibilities previously done by staff on higher grades.
- Advise relief workers that if they are willing to remain to support the delivery of LD Services in the future this will be on a lower rate of pay with all enhancements removed.
UNISON believes that if these proposals are progressed the impact on the workforce will be considerable and will seriously undermine the quality if not the actual delivery of Learning Disability Services.
Further after asking Dimensions in December for the legally required Economic Technical or Organisational reasons for the proposed measures relating to this transfer, UNISON is concerned that to date we have received no evidence to demonstrate the validity of an Economic reason. Therefore UNISON has advised Somerset County Council representatives:
“…As Somerset County Council will be aware consultation and negotiation should take place regarding potential ETO reasons with a view to reaching agreement on these prior to any consultation regarding proposed measures as consultation cannot commence regarding proposed measures until such time as we have established that the ETO reasons and changes to the workforce provisions required under TUPE have been met…
At present UNISON must advise Somerset County Council that insufficient information has been provided to enable commencement of meaningful consultation on the issue of both ETO reasons and changes to the workforce. It is not sufficient to quote the law and then state that:
“…We believe that in order to achieve the agreed objectives of efficiencies and modernisation, to ensure that the Social Enterprise is financially suitable for the future, the three core areas of change (terms and conditions, management restructure and transformation of day services) are necessary but these are intertwined. We cannot achieve the overall objective without these core areas…”
Furthermore, UNISON would like details of when, where and by whom the objectives of efficiencies and modernisation were agreed and on what basis this agreement was reached.
The statement above merely indicates that Dimensions believes that there are economic reasons for the measures. UNISON is unable to consider if there is a genuine economic reason as no information has been provided to assist in determining this. Therefore UNISON must reserve our position on whether an ETO reason applies in this case pending the provision of further information and the commencement of consultation on this once relevant information has been provided.
Similarly no information has been provided in terms of how Dimensions believes that the requirement of changes to the workforce under the TUPE regulations has been met.
As Somerset County Council will be aware, until such time as we have sought to reach agreement on ETO reasons and changes to the workforce via meaningful consultation we cannot commence consultation on any proposed contractual changes including both potential redundancies and changes to terms and conditions, as failure to establish an ETO reason would automatically make any such changes void, as is clear in the TUPE regulations…”
UNISON is still awaiting a response to this communication. Given the failure to date to provide ETO evidence and the scale of the proposed measures we believe that the proposed 1 April transfer date is completely unrealistic as there is insufficient time now to meet the legal requirements to both provide the necessary information to commence meaningful consultation and for this to conclude prior to 1 April.
Given these concerns UNISON is asking all Somerset County Councillors to review the decision to award this contract to Dimensions and at the very least defer the proposed TUPE transfer date of 1 April to allow a proper review of the decision to award this contract and the implications this may have. We believe that Dimensions current proposals will decimate the workforce and in turn rather than achieving the vision and objectives identified above will have the effect of undermining the quality and choice of current Learning Disabilities Services in Somerset. We further believe that at present there is a high risk of legal challenge.
Previously the Council explored retaining the whole Learning Disability Service within the Council, recognising at the same time that “…this would not be a ‘no change’ option as the Service would need to change and develop over time in order to meet the challenges of demographic changes and the increased personalisation of services…” Cabinet February 2014. UNISON has been advised that this change was taking place within the current service but not at a pace that the Council deemed necessary.
Therefore Cabinet decided to explore procuring an outside provider so that they could address the perceived weaknesses of the in-house service, these weaknesses were identified as:
- The service is supporting an ageing population.
- The service is not attracting young people into its current provision due to the age profile of the people already using the service and issues with most the current buildings in the service.
- The service has difficulty setting up new services.
- The service is difficult to cost on the same basis as the rest of the sector.
- The service cannot trade with the wider population.
UNISON understands that these challenges were essentially the rationale for the Council deciding to explore the second choice that emerged from the consultation exercise. In all of the ‘Getting to Know You’ event Dimensions have held with staff they have not identified how they will meet these challenges rather the feedback we have had from UNISON members is that the focus has been on the need for cost cutting and Dimensions have stated that given the challenges faced, staff must accept the need to cut costs. Indeed when Dimensions have been asked about plans to address issues with buildings they were unable to provide a response. UNISON therefore believes that the original aims and objectives are not being met by Dimensions.
In asking you to consider this, UNISON would again remind you of the identified
benefits of retaining an in-house service including:
- The Learning Disabilities Provider Service is a good service. It has successfully remodelled elements of its provision, most notably employment support. It has received positive feedback in customer experience surveys undertaken by the Council’s Customers and Communities team. Anonymous visitor questionnaires (offered to any visitor to a service) have also provided overwhelmingly positive feedback.
- A majority of customers and carers have told us that their preference is for the continued direct provision of the services they receive by the Council.
- It would have a low, or no short term impact on customers and carers.
- It would retain skills, expertise, knowledge and existing service levels.
- There would be no additional or double funding of council-wide overheads, including Southwest One.
- It would not incur any short term change costs.
- Maintaining the in-house provision avoids the risk of market failure, with its consequent dangers for vulnerable people and the Council’s ability to meet its statutory responsibilities, as well as cost and reputational implications.
The current risks of proceeding with a TUPE transfer to Dimensions on 1 April without undertaking a review to consider the implications are significant. We would therefore ask that Somerset County Councillors consider deferring the TUPE transfer date.
UNISON South West