Personalisation: Essex launches first council-owned care firm

A pioneering council-owned care company has been formally launched today in Essex to transform former in-house services in line with the personalisation agenda.

Essex Cares, which started work on 1 July, has taken over responsibility for 850 staff and a range of services from the council, which it will run under a three-year contract with the authority, which is the 100% shareholder.

Unlike in-house services, and like independent care providers, it will be able to provide services for people through direct payments and receive custom from private social care users, and has plans to expand into new areas, such as health.

First social care trading company

It is the first local authority trading company – which authorities can create under the Local Government Act 2003 – to cover social care services, and is split into three parts:-

  • Essex Community Support Ltd, which provides home-based reablement services to help people, such as those leaving hospital, regain independence; day care, and some ongoing domiciliary care for people moving off reablement services.
  • Employment and Inclusion Ltd, which provides help for service users to acquire skills, play a larger part in the community and gain paid work.
  • Essex Equipment Service, which provides aids, adaptations and medical equipment throughout the county.

Personalisation was key driver

Mike Walsh, a consultant who helped set up Essex Cares and is now its acting managing director, said transforming in-house services to meet the demands of personalisation was a key motivation for setting up the company, and said there had been “significant interest” from other authorities.

He said with the growth of self-directed support “in-house services were under threat because they can’t trade”, and added that the trading company model “answered a lot of questions that directors had had about what you do with in-house services”.

He added: “I anticipate they will increase as time goes on.”

Accountability to council

Walsh said accountability to the council was provided through a shareholder liaison group of local councillors, which will meet with Essex Cares every quarter to discuss performance, and a contract he claimed was tougher than those signed with independent providers.

For instance, Essex Cares will face financial penalties if they fail to meet performance indicators, under the contract, and Walsh said that, despite being the shareholder, the council could cancel the contract after three years.

He said the idea had received strong backing from staff and the local Unison branch.

Staff to retain terms and conditions

Walsh said staff had retained their council terms and conditions and there were no plans to change this “despite it putting us at a competitive disadvantage” to independent providers. New members of staff were also employed on the same conditions.

Future expansion plans could include bidding for community health services, such as district nursing, which primary care trusts in the county are planning to put out for tender.

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