Success for the little guy: care and support contracts and unfair pricing aborted

Sense has prevailed at last!

In my last post, I discussed why the tendering of care and support services was such a bad idea, after Edinburgh Council was forced to abandon its tender process.  The independent review stated that the process was not implemented meticulously or thoroughly enough, that there remained concerns about the ranking of the bidding service providers, and that it opened up the Council to legal challenges from unsuccessful bidders.

Given all of this, it was astonishing that, at last week’s Finance and Resources Committee, the LibDem/SNP administration decided that it was perfectly OK to set the rate of Direct Payments based on the outcome of the flawed tender – at a value of £15.04.  Direct Payments (DPs) are sums of money given to people requiring care and support in lieu of that care and support.  They are popular amongst some service users who want to be given more freedom and choice over who provides their care.  DPs also offer service users a degree of financial independence and autonomy.

The administration insisted, last week, that this level was over and above what was necessary, and that service users should just be happy with it.  Officers and administration councillors defended this rate to the hilt, saying it was reasonable enough, especially given the ‘consultation’ with service users and advocates that had happened prior to Christmas.  Lesley Hinds and I argued that it was completely inappropriate to base the DP level of the abandoned tender process, and that we desperately needed a more concerted effort to consult and communicate with service users AND providers to reach an appropriate DP level that would allow adequate funds to deal with what are often very complex individual care needs, as well as to reestablish the trust in the Council that had been so comprehensively lost over the past few months.  We we mocked and pilloried, and ultimately brushed aside.

However, again using that most valuable of Standing Orders (the one which resulted in this issue going to Full Council in the first place back in October), we managed to get the decision of the DP level referred to Full Council.

Much to my astonishment (and that of Lesley and the service users, I think), the Administration tabled an amendment to their decision of the previous week throwing out the DP level of £15.04, and stating that more dialogue was necessary.  The second U-turn in as many months!

This U-turn signifies several things:

Firstly, it exemplifies the power of the people!  Without the campaigning effort, the sweat and tears that service users and their advocates have put in over the last 4 months, this outcome would never have been achieved.  The work of organisations, individuals, and family members deserves all the credit – you all did fantastic work, and inspired so many other people to action.  Well done, and thank you!

Secondly, this outcome highlights a deep, structural flaw within the relationship between the LibDem/SNP administration and the Council officers.  There is an arrogance within the Administration that not only prevents them from listening to people, but also seems to absolve them of all responsibility.  Over the course of the tendering process, I constantly reminded them that tendering was problematic, that the consequences needed to be adequately thought through, and that the overall strategy of care provision required clearer thinking and planning.  The procurement bandwagon was all too easily jumped on; afterall, if we employ procurement specialists, of course tendering opportunities are going to be designed, whether appropriate or not.  The Administration failed to heed the warnings many of us gave them during the process, and constantly reaffirmed the process, despite the absence of a wider strategy.  Then, when it went wrong, it was all the officers’ fault.  Talk about lack of judgement and leadership!

Thirdly, and perhaps most controversially, this U-turn indicates the lack of ability within the current Administration to lead a city like Edinburgh.  They are closed to constructive criticism, absolutely determined that they have all the answers, and completely unable to take the blame when they mess up.  I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I would like to think that I am able of listening to others who might have some of the answers I don’t.

However, yesterday was a good day for the people of Edinburgh requiring Care and Support services.  I hope to be a part of the dialogue over the coming weeks to help rebuild the trust between them and the Council, and ensure we come to an agreement about the best way forward for dealing with their care requirements.

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