Union criticises privatisation of Brighton and Hove homes for people with learning disabilities

Posted On 03 Jun 2014 at 11:17 pm

A proposal to privatise seven homes in Brighton and Hove for people with learning disabilities has come under fire from the trade union Unison.

If the proposal is agreed, Brighton and Hove City Council will consult families, carers and the people with learning disabilities who live in the seven homes.

After the consultation, which is scheduled to last for 90 days, officials will report back to the Health and Wellbeing Board.

The board will then make a recommendation to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee.

Unison has written to the council’s chief executive Penny Thompson about the proposal which affects 62 staff and 40 people being cared for in homes in

  • Beaconsfield Villas, near Preston Park
  • Burwash Lodge in Liphook Close, Hollingdean
  • Cromwell Road, Hove
  • Hawkhurst Road, Coldean
  • Mantell House in Lennox Street, off Carlton Hill, Brighton
  • Rutland Gardens, Hove
  • Leicester Villas, Hove

The union said: “Unison has learnt today (Tuesday 3 June) that BHCC is proposing (at the Health and Wellbeing Board on 10 June) to privatise seven residential services for people with learning disabilities situated in the city.

The report claims that these services can be provided in the private and voluntary sector ‘at lower cost’.

“As staffing costs make up 90 per cent of the service expenditure, and other costs (such as buildings) are fixed, there is only one way that this can happen, and that is by slashing the salary, terms and conditions of staff.

“All of these have been achieved over many years by Unison and the branch will not stand by while these hard-won benefits for staff, whose work is exceptionally demanding and of the highest standard, are destroyed.

“The report states, ‘There is no reason to believe that the private and voluntary sector could not deliver very successful, high-quality services to these people.’

“What it fails to do is justify why the services should be transferred out when that is the case currently, in-house.

Alex Knutsen

Alex Knutsen

“It continues, ‘The accommodation provided by the council is expensive.’

“That is absolutely correct and that is due to the staff and trade unions demanding the best for the most vulnerable in our community.

“If the services are allowed to be sent to the voluntary and private sector, corners will be cut and staff pay reduced.

“This is no assumption, but fact, as evidenced from reports across the country.

“Unison has immediately written to the chief executive to complain about the secrecy and underhand manner in which this report has suddenly appeared.

“The Officers have broken a long-standing arrangement operated by all three political groups over many years with Unison by which reports such as this were discussed with ourselves first and a strategy agreed that kept the anxiety of staff and service users to a minimum.

“Instead, selected staff were briefed by managers over the weekend but handed out information … that was either misleading or simply wrong.

“The consequence was that staff anxieties were ‘sent through the roof’.

“The branch is writing to all elected councillors asking them to throw out this report at their meeting next week and will be asking all our members to lobby the committee.”

Alex Knutsen, from Unison, said: “The proposals in this report are quite appalling for both staff and service users.

“We have fought long and hard for decent pay in what used to be known as the ‘Cinderella’ of residential services.

“The report is exactly right to say our ‘unit costs’ are higher than other authorities and the private sector.

“What it omits to state is that our staff are the best and provide an exceptional service.

“The only reason for privatising these homes is cost-cutting.

“Unison will launch its biggest ever campaign against these proposals and in the run-up to next year’s elections take clear note of who is for and against us.”

The report indicates that putting the seven homes out to tender should save the council £232,000 a year. This is almost £70,000 a year short of the target for this element of the council’s budget.

The Health and Wellbeing Board is due to discuss the report and recommendations at a public meeting at Hove Town Hall at 4pm next Tuesday (10 June).

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