Richard Branson’s Virgin Care will run core adult social work services in Bath and North East Somerset after a £700m contract to reshape community health and social care services was approved last night.
The Conservative-controlled council voted 35-22 in favour of the deal. Earlier in the day the local NHS clinical commissioning group’s board voted unanimously in favour.
From April 2017, Virgin will run more than 200 services under the deal including three statutory services – adult social care, continuing healthcare and children’s community health. The deal marks the first time a privately-owned profit-making firm will deliver statutory adult social work functions.
Unlike in children’s services, there are no laws preventing councils from delegating statutory adult social work functions to profit-making providers.
But previous outsourcing deals by councils have only seen social work run by local authority-owned trading companies or not-for-profit social enterprises spun out of social services departments.
Bath and North East Somerset council has said a clause in the Virgin deal will require any financial surplus to be reinvested in services.
Since 2011 Bath’s adult social care services have been run by Sirona Care, a not-for-profit social enterprise, after the council opted to outsource provision.
Virgin Care was selected over a rival bid from a consortium of local services led by Sirona Care. The council and NHS commissioners said the Virgin bid at least matched the consortium in every individual area, and there was a “significant” final difference in the total scores.
A Bath council spokesman said arrangements for transferring staff, including social workers, from Sirona to Virgin Care would be worked out over coming months.
“But we can confirm that anyone transferring to another organisation under TUPE regulations will retain their existing terms and conditions, pay, and pension,” he added.
The Virgin deal has sparked criticism from unions, social work leaders and unions.
Earlier this week Lewis Carson from Unison said the union’s members were opposed to a profit-making firm taking over services.
“We’re fighting to oppose the contract. We have concerns about what this means for staff conditions and service delivery.
“From past experience we know staff terms and conditions can be targeted for savings. Our members are passionate about the care they deliver and there are a lot of unanswered questions about what this will mean in terms of teams, workloads and day-to-day work. We’re extremely concerned.”