Edinburgh plan to switch providers angers service users

Disabled people in Edinburgh are to stage a protest today over the council’s plans to change their service providers without giving them immediate access to direct payments.

The protest, organised in part by representatives of existing providers who are losing contracts, will take place outside the council’s annual social work lecture today and is expected to be attended by more than 100 people.

The council has been accused of delaying access to direct payments for users to protect the award of new three-year contracts to eight home care and housing support providers, following a retendering exercise. The full council is due to decide on the new contracts on 19 November.

The existing services concerned are used by 770 people, many of whom are expected to transfer to a new provider from next year under the contracts.

One hundred and fifty-six have applied for direct payments, with 69 applications accepted.

Direct payments applications

The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland, which is organising the protest and whose members include four voluntary providers who are due to lose their contracts, said users had applied for direct payments to maintain their current service.

It said unsuccessful applicants had been told to wait until their services had changed before applying for a direct payment.

Nic Goodwin, head of services at Scottish charity Deaf Action, which is also due to lose its contract, said: “We are potentially talking about a lot of people who may be quite vulnerable. To have to wait until the transfer of services is complete and then transfer back to your original provider causes a lot of disruption.”

‘New contracts being protected’

Protesters claim that promises to allow people access to direct payments had previously been made by the council. Co-ordinator of Learning Disability Alliance Scotland Ian Hood said he believed direct payments were being held up to protect these new contracts as a dip in the number of service users may put their viability at risk. He said: “By not authorising direct payments they are ensuring the figures then stand up.”

However, Paul Edie, Edinburgh Council’s convenor for health, social care and housing, said: “People can still apply for direct payments and these will come into force once the contracts are approved.”

The council aims to increase capacity, improve care quality and decrease costs through the retendering exercise, with an estimated saving of £5.5m over the three years of the contracts.

Goodwin also expressed concerns that the council had not properly engaged with the deaf community while tendering for services, for instance by not providing a text phone, SMS or fax number for people to submit responses.

He said that Deaf Action would look to contest any decision made about service provision if the charity felt new services were not appropriate.

More information

The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland has put together a video of service users voicing their concerns about the council’s decision.

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