Axed Wirral providers ponder legal action on quality and cost grounds

Wirral Council may face legal action from home care companies that
have been cut from its roster of providers, writes
Gordon Carson

The council has been accused of putting price before quality in its
contracts for the next five years, which start on 1 October.

It has reduced the number of care providers from 23 to eight main
providers and six smaller, specialist organisations.

But providers that missed out on contracts have teamed up to
protest about the council’s decision and are considering legal
action. Some fear they will go out of business.

The providers would base their challenge on service quality and
what they perceive to be the council’s over-emphasis on cost.

Mark Jones, care manager at Care Connect, one of the providers that
lost out, said: “The council’s decision can only come down to one
possibility and that’s cost reduction. But cost is going to affect
the quality and what’s going to happen to service users.

“We have been on the Wirral 13 years and we are investing in
people, and that costs money.”

He also criticised the council’s decision to award a large contract
to Local Solutions, whose Liverpool offices were criticised
recently by the Commission for Social Care Inspection.

But Kevin Miller, Wirral’s director of social services, said Local
Solutions delivered a “quality service” on the Wirral.

He was also adamant that all the providers had been fully involved
in an “open, transparent” tendering process. “Providers have had
the opportunity to influence the process,” he said. “We have to
look hard about the way we commission and procure services,
especially if you add in the Gershon review.”

He said some of those that lost contracts “may well have a quality
framework in place”, but that in the “balance of considerations”
they had not met the full criteria.

“You can’t have a commissioning arrangement that favours any
organisation simply because they have been here a long time,” he

Miller said his response to any legal challenge would be “robust”,
and claimed the public opposition to the council’s decision was
“undermining confidence” among service users.

The contracts, for 27,000 hours of care a week, are worth
£12.3m a year.

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