SUPPORT services for some of leeds’s most vulnerable adults are about to undergo the biggest shift ever. and if all goes as intended, no one will notice any change at all. aisha iqbal reports.
CHANGE can be a scary thing at the best of times.
However the 700 staff who dedicate their lives to caring for some of Leeds’s most vulnerable individuals are being promised that change could actually be the best way to keep things the same.
Leeds’s services for adults with learning disabilities are set to undergo a major shift, subject to a new consultation and ballot.
The service, which cares for and supports around 1,000 people across the city, could break away from Leeds City Council control to become a social enterprise owned and operated entirely by staff, who would all keep their jobs and transfer over to the new company.
The move would represent, by the council’s own admission, “the biggest shift of its kind ever to take place in Leeds”.
Social enterprises are not-for-profit community-focused businesses and any profits would be used to improve existing services.
Leeds City Council’s decision-making executive board was recently asked to approve the start of a formal consultation period on the proposals, following the drawing up of a detailed business plan.
The Learning Disability Service (LDS) has an annual budget of £21m, and provides help and advice as well as hands-on personal care. It runs a variety of semi-independent living schemes, respite services for clients and their families, and a whole range of day activities.
So, with such a big budget and such important work, why the need for change?
Council bosses say the move is designed to secure the future of the service at a time of huge financial pressures.
Despite what might seem like a big pot of money, the service has had its fair share of cuts in recent years.
And after recent controversy about the council’s decision to close four of its OAP care homes, it was felt that a different model of working was needed to protect other services for vulnerable users, and ensure any changes - necessary as they might be - are implemented with minimum disruption.
Paul Broughton, chief officer for Adult Social Care at the council, says: “These are some of the most vulnerable people in the city and they are dependent on our help.
“We have been asked ‘what about the users?’ They are key to this, but they shouldn’t see any impact.
“This is about maintaining what’s there.”
He says that the move is also about future growth, at a time when budgets are falling, but demand is increasing.
Mr Broughton says that if the changeover goes ahead - which could be by next year - the social enterprise model “could be a model for other services”.
He explains that staff will be “equal owners” of the new company, however there will be no shares in it. The council will formally buy services from the new organisation. Existing staff will all transfer over under the TUPE system, and it is hoped the new structures will ensure a living wage for them all.
The local authority - with its care responsibilities - will remain the biggest contractor, but major decisions will be taken autonomously by a board of directors. The organisation will be free to bid for other contracts and work outside the council if it wishes.
Letters have recently been sent to service users and their families informing them of the proposals ahead of any decision being taken.
For staff, unsurprisingly, there has been some initial scepticism, but ultimately there is only one thing that matters - ensuring their clients get top quality care.
Lynn Nettleton, 45, has been a carer for adults with learning disabilities for five years.
She currently looks after four ladies who live in semi-independent accommodation in Woodhouse. For her clients, she is more than just a carer, she is a lifeline.
The ladies in Lynn’s care - Linda Johnson, Sarah Fagan, Wendy Heaps and Shelley Winship - have a variety of complex needs including cerebral palsy .
She says the plans for a social enterprise sound “very positive” and believes that had things carried on as they are, and the financial pressures on the council continued, “there was a risk that it would go private”. “This way we will be able to put all the money back into the business,” she says.
Mary Broughton has worked for the council for 31 years. She currently works for West North West Community Outreach, supporting small groups and taking them on various activities. She says she was “very sceptical” about the breakaway plan at the start, but now, she is “100 per cent behind it”.
“I just think that it’s the best way to ensure the fantastic service we have”, she said. “When you look at the other services like adult social care and children’s services [which have suffered cuts] we are one of the biggest ones left. We just want to have continuity in the level of care.”
She is especially hoping that the changeover will cut out some of the unnecessary council red-tape that can sometimes hamper the delivery of care. “If you want to do anything, it has to go through various people” she said, adding that “we have the expertise and the knowledge” to make the social enterprise work.
‘THIS WILL PUT THEM IN CHARGE OF THEIR OWN DESTINY’
Councillor Adam Ogilvie, Leeds City Council’s executive member for adult social care, is overseeing a nine-month consultation into the social enterprise proposal, officially known as a “staff led mutual”.
He says the 1,000 vulnerable adults currently cared for by the existing service - which has a budget of £21m - are already getting a “good quality service”. Any change in structures would simply be about allowing that to continue.
He explains that the council has been working for 18 months on developing a business plan, after securing funding from the Government to put it together, adding that this model of working is something the Government is increasingly keen to explore.
“Service users and their families hopefully won’t see any difference,” he says.
“They will still be living in the same buildings, attending the same services.
“To them, nothing will change.”
He stresses the service is “really important and we want to protect it”.
”As a council we are threatened with big cuts,” he says.
“The finances are a big consideration, but it’s also about ensuring people with learning disabilities have a good quality service going forward, that is the most important thing.
“It will mean that £21m is effectively protected. It also allows staff to explore possibilities for expansion a and growth.
“It will be free-standing, but the decision-making will be by a board made up of managers, service users, carers, as well as a few places for the council.”
“It probably allows them to make some decisions quicker, be more fleet of foot, but the most important thing is delivering high quality service.”
“It will mean they are in charge of their own destiny.”