Islington Council has rejected calls for the resignation of its adult social care director over her role in two care contracts that subsequently proved unaffordable for the authority.
The Unison branch at the London authority has called for the resignation of director Gwen Ovshinsky, following the review of two 25-year council contracts under which private provider Care UK took on former in-house residential and day care services.
The review, carried out by former deputy chief executive Andy Jennings before his retirement in the summer, found that financial modelling for both contracts had been inadequate, which led to them being unaffordable.
Ovinshinksy, then assistant director of social services, led on the procurement of the first contract, before being appointed director of adult services in 2005. In the same year, she appointed Care UK as preferred bidder for the second contract.
The unaffordability of the contracts led the council to negotiate a reduction in the price of the 2003 contract, in exchange for a one-off £2.9m payment. Care UK used half the money to pay a lump sum to staff transferred from Islington, in exchange for a significant wage cut which almost triggered industrial action.
However, Jennings found, the council had agreed to the £2.9m transfer without seeking permission from the government to borrow the money, as is required. In the end, the money had to be paid out of the council’s revenue account.
Andy Jennings’ report also criticised the lack of communication with staff, unions and members over the affordability problems with the contract.
Unison deputy branch secretary Andrew Berry said: “It’s clear that Gwen Ovshinksy got her sums wrong. I know this is an unusual demand for a trade union to make but council staff less senior have lost their job for losing far less money.”
And, pointing to council plans to externalise its in-house domiciliary care service for people with dementia, he asked: “How can we trust someone with the outsourcing of home care if they are implicated so significantly in the problems with the Care UK contract?”
However, executive member for health and adult social care John Gilbert pointed out that the way Jennings had concluded the procurement of both contracts had been entirely lawful. Gilbert described the resignation call as “inappropriate” and added: “Gwen Ovshinsky is an excellent director of adult social care and has overseen a real improvement in services for vulnerable people.”