Edinburgh campaigners defeat council on direct payments delay

Edinburgh Council leaders have been defeated by opposition councillors over moves to delay direct payment applications while the council re-tenders for care and support services.

Backed by campaigners, the Labour and Green parties yesterday forced through a motion to put the award of new contracts on hold while a backlog of direct payment applications, frozen by officials earlier this year, are processed.

The motion was passed by just one vote against the controlling Liberal Democrat and Scottish National Party coalition after the Conservatives also backed it.

Campaigners, including representatives of providers set to lose contracts, claim the council suspended applications to ensure the viability of the new contracts, as many clients would use direct payments to stay with their current providers.

The tenders affect 770 domiciliary care and housing support service users.

The Learning Disability Alliance Scotland (LDAS), whose members include four providers set to lose contracts and one of the successful providers, welcomed the vote.

Co-ordinator Ian Hood said: “Now, finally after 18 months, councillors have listened to the most vulnerable people in our society. There is still a lot to sort out but this is good news today.”

However, there are concerns that the new contracts may fall through, prompting the successful providers to take legal action against the council.

The tenders expire on 5 December, giving the council little time to process the remaining 209 applications, as officials currently process 11 a month.

The council has brought in additional staff to clear the backlog. However, it could face a fresh influx of applications as a result of yesterday’s motion. This mandated councils to contact existing users, telling them of their right to apply for a direct payment.

However, LDAS said the tender deadline could be extended by 60 days.

Hood claimed care providers would be reluctant to receive the bad publicity generated by any legal action that might suggest they were putting commercial interests before vulnerable people’s lives.

Councillors also resolved as part of the motion to meet with service users’ groups to try to resolve their concerns and report on their discussions to a specially convened session of the council’s finance and resources committee on 3 December.

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