Social workers transferred to Virgin Care under landmark deal

43 social workers in Bath and North East Somerset have moved to Richard Branson’s firm as part of a £700m health and care deal

image of Virgin Care company logo, used in article Landmark deal for private firm to run social work service approved

Forty three social workers in Bath and North East Somerset have transferred to Virgin Care as part of a £700m contract to run social care and community health services that came into force this month.

The deal struck between Richard Branson’s firm, the local authority and NHS commissioners is the first time a profit-making company has taken on responsibility for running a council’s core adult social work functions. Under the contract, any profits will be reinvested in services.

Virgin won the tender over a rival bid from a consortium led by Sirona Care, a community interest company which had previously delivered social care on behalf of the council. The decision was met with opposition from anti-privatisation campaigners and trade unions, who questioned Virgin’s track-record in social care.

The company told Community Care it had appointed a “senior social work expert” as part of its senior teams, to work alongside the managers that transferred.

“We will also be appointing further social work colleagues, at senior level, to support the delivery of the new, integrated health and social care service,” a spokesperson said.

These newly appointed staff will provide “professional support” to frontline social workers. Virgin Care’s training and development arm, The Learning Enterprise, will support social workers with professional development, the spokesperson added.

Virgin said there would be no changes to services during the first 100 days in order to allow for a transition period. The contract allows the firm to act as a “prime provider” and subcontract some services, but the company said it had no plans to apply this to social work services.

“We are proud to have welcomed many talented and hard-working colleagues to our team, and pleased to begin our journey together to deliver a new, integrated health and social care service and, together with our commissioners, deliver a responsive and high quality service,” the spokesperson said.

“Following the successful safe transfer of services on 1 April, we are now working closely with our teams through a comprehensive induction programme and to finalise our transformation roadmap for the next few years, at events over the coming month with all of our colleagues having the opportunity to contribute.”

Bath and North East Somerset Council said existing arrangements for adult safeguarding would continue. These see investigations carried out by staff at providers – previously Sirona, now Virgin Care – but the council retains a team of staff at team-manager level to chair all safeguarding meetings, make formal decisions and undertake quality assurance work.

The council and Virgin Care have said that the contract aims to deliver a more joined up health and care system. Virgin Care’s business case document – which contains no explicit discussion of social work functions – mentions services having a single call centre, as well as creating integrated health and social care ‘hubs’ based around GP surgeries, but it is unclear as yet how these would work.

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21 Responses to Social workers transferred to Virgin Care under landmark deal

  1. Paul Fallon April 26, 2017 at 2:31 pm #

    The end is nigh

  2. Longtime SW April 26, 2017 at 2:46 pm #

    And so it starts . . . . .

    So, if profits (!!!!) from social care are to be reinvested in the service why are Virgin taking this on?

    Do Virgin shareholders know of this philanthropic enterprise?

    How long after the next election if Tories get in will the Children Act amendments regarding exemptions be brought back in?

    BANES Councillors should be ashamed of themselves – though probably got jobs waiting in the wings when public services become fully privatised.

    Guess who will pick up the tab, besides service users, if it fails like their last venture in Health care in the South West?

  3. Nell April 26, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

    I like how it says social workers ‘have moved’. I wonder what choice they had? No doubt other LAs will be watching with interest and social workers will watch with horror. No comment from our Chief?

  4. IanKemp April 26, 2017 at 4:17 pm #

    Well virgin care no doubt will do a better job than the local authority ………….. Ideally the over all strategy should be to recreate Social work departments separately funded and independent of local Authority . In the 45 years that I spent in social work in Local authority all over the place, I never saw one good thing re the involvement of Local authority .
    The new department would professionalise all care including children’s home care homes.. everything. Home care would go back to the new social care departments and be professionalised with proper training and support. It would be a revolution , but integrated care away from fragmented servicers and the marketization of care via the ridiculous purchase provider nonsense would help and be a start. Would it be costly/ ? In the long run I would guess know.
    The problem with local authority is that it had no respect for any real professional development. It is a very bureaucratic control system, and very expensive. . Social work over the years lost its identity as it was absorbed into the manageralism of local Gov bureaucracy. So much money was wasted on the latest bureaucratic wheeze by some hierarchical career climber not always a social worker , paid a ridiculous amount of money , which could and should have been used to help clients or people who required social work help.
    I guess it would require a political explosion which at present does not seem likely. But one can dream I suppose. Meanwhile, social work will be further squeezed out of existence, as it is further absorbed into the local Gov system.

    • Frances Margaret May 3, 2017 at 10:36 am #

      I agree Ian as a retired social worker every time there was a ‘ new person’ appointed to a higher management post there was yet another review to change systems which had never been operationalised since last review. Virgin couldn’t do a worse job. And of course they will get tax breaks if it is being run on NFP lines, so shareholders will be happy

  5. social worker April 26, 2017 at 5:21 pm #


    Management drivel-speak.

    “Let us all clap for joy in our brave new world, where to be critical of anything is to be wrong and ‘talking-down’ and moaning”.

    For, of course, a profit-based business model is the best way to run public services, as we know.

    Good luck to all our colleagues and service users in Bath and North-East Somerset, and I hope this brings more benefits than costs. And I don’t mean costs in the financial sense.

  6. Mark April 26, 2017 at 6:11 pm #

    How can the business case be valid if it doesn’t set out social work functions in detail?

  7. Katie Politico April 26, 2017 at 6:14 pm #

    It would be great to hear from workers who took part in the consultations and subsequent planning of the transfer of this public service to the private sector. I foresee a number of dilemmas such as 1. NHS services are universal whilst social care is means-tested. How will the transfer affect those adults in need of both? 2. The local authority remains statutorily responsible when things go wrong. This means the ordinary tax payer will foot the bill when things go wrong as well as deal with the emotional fallout. 3. Three months isn’t sufficient time for the transfer of such vast areas of knowledge, experience and practice.

    • Nick April 27, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

      Referencing Staffordshire from perspective of moving adult social work staff from LA to NHS circa 2012: lack of joined up commissioning and little clarity around policies; poor contract monitoring by LA; social care perceived by NHS as ‘poor relation’ – staff confusion and many more issues.

  8. Steve April 26, 2017 at 7:20 pm #

    I feel that it’s a sad day when we have to privatise social work. Maybe virgin will reinvest profits after it’s paid fat cats at the top huge salaries (who needs profit), but it won’t be long before someone turns a pure profit from money that was meant to support the most vulnerable in our society. No one should make profit in social care, including providers. Social work is not a business. Until we stop treating it like one, it will never be success. How can a buisness operate effectively when its demand increases, but its supply is in decline. It needs to be the exact opposite.

  9. Sharon B April 26, 2017 at 8:15 pm #

    Wonder if they will be required to wear a branded uniform ??

  10. IanKemp April 27, 2017 at 8:25 am #

    The problem is the L.A has not in my very long experience ever been able to run a proper client based service. It is to bureaucratic and controlling. It makes a lot talk about client based service and so on , but it always ends up increasing the range of managers and bureaucracy. I am not in favour of private services. They are for profit first and foremost. But the local authority, has also been extremely expensive. The answer in the long term would be to create a proper professional service independently funded and separate from the suffocating bureaucracy, of L.A. This would include the whole of the care service homes home care and so on. Organise it professionally with proper training for all. Integrate it with NHS so that we have a holistic approach to social and health problems. They are related to each other. Surely this would not be beyond our wonderful politicians and policy wonks. These are just a few thoughts . Sometimes one has to think outside the box as it were.

    • Longtime SW April 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

      Are you suggesting there will be no bureaucracy or managers or controlling or expense involved when Virgin take over? (Bet the first thing that happens is driving wages down in an already poorly paid profession)

      Sorry Ian you are living in a dream world – if half the free money by way of Grant’s and/or tax breaks that is thrown at private organisations (in both local Govt and NHS) were made availiable, for example , to keep Family Centres or Adult Day Care Centres open, (this is called early intervention by the way), and the service is based on need not profit – (sorry, my mistake, ‘value for money’) – then we would not be in the mess we are in now

      Also I’m not clear – are you currently working in the frontline?

      • IanKemp April 28, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

        Yes I have worked in all areas of social work for over 40 years . I have been T.M senior social worker social worker,, A triple graduate in Psychology and Neuro Biology. Yes there will always be some form of bureaucracy in any large organisation. What I am suggesting if you read what I am probably badly trying to say is that for social work to survive as any sort of profession will need to separate from Local Gov. There used to be social work departments run by directors who were social workers. This was within the structure of L.A . The unions were strong and effective so we had some sort of control over L.A hierarchy. With the advent of Thatcherism who wanted to do away with social work.Social work gradually was increasingly side lined .It was bureaucratised with the development of manageralism as a way of dealing with social problems. There were many attempts in the 80 s to challenge this, via the unions . They were emasculated and marginalised over the years . The local authority increasingly squeezed the life out of social work…. I saw more and more managers ap. for this and that . Many were just jobs worthies to manage the increasing bureaucracy paid a lot of money. Social work was just a way for somebody to climb the hierarchy and get well paid for doing it. Little empires were created . That eventually became for many the reason de entre for entering into social work. Local Gov via a process of incrementalism will increase the bureaucracy . That is the nature of a very large organisation . The problem as I say was and is the huge cost of this exercise. The service that is delivered is very small for a huge cost.
        What I am trying to say is that a Social work department should be created like the old one, but separate, from local authority. It should be centrally funded. This department would be large, yes it would have its own bureaucracy, but under control of social work department. It would be professionally organised and run . A bit like the Medical profession . All care home support centres home care children’s centres would be part of the Social work department.
        So I am not suggesting that virgin care or what ever is the answer. But from my experience over a very long period of time I have seen the L.A gradually undermine social work. I have seen many stupid disciplinary actions based on the power of somebody in the hierarchy who has a grudge against somebody. I have seen people destroyed in the process. The unions were completely useless.
        Corporate power is made worse in very large organisation. There often was very little care about what happened to a social worker or indeed any other member of staff as long as a particular manager achieved whatever it was he wanted to do.
        So longtime SW, I am not in favour of any sort of privatisation in social care or any ware else , . Yes I maybe dreaming but all one can say at least I am trying to think outside the box. From all my experience in many different local authorities in all types of social work, there must be a better way, to run our care services that is more caring and humane than what has happened to social work over the last 40 years , particularly the last 25 years were it has been almost totally absorbed into local Gov and almost been totally DE professionalised. so that social workers are a mere cog in the giant bureaucracy that is local Gov.
        Surely you would agree longtime SW, that a properly funded professional organisation with proper training for all staff and no more of this purchaser provider nonsense must be a better bet than what we have got. Maybe you don t agree as you are part of the organisation as it were.

  11. Richard Newman April 27, 2017 at 9:33 am #

    They will reinvest profits fine it seems but Virgin is one of the country’s largest tax dodgers !

  12. Shirley April 27, 2017 at 9:47 pm #

    Oh God. Thank the heavens I live in Scotland and am retiring.

  13. Blair McPherson April 28, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    No quote from the Union? No comment from the ADASS! No report of concerns from service user groups?

  14. Peter Kent April 28, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    ÜberCare; coming to a local authority near you…

    • IanKemp April 28, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

      They probably are……….

  15. Steve Taylor April 30, 2017 at 6:21 pm #

    *The wealthier the society, the greater the chasm between the rich and the poorest the chasm widens.

    *Managerialism vs Welfarism do not good bedfellows make.

    *How can Virgin cost cutting plans fail to negatively impact upon a child’s fundamental rights
    under UNCRC

  16. londonboy May 4, 2017 at 7:27 pm #

    I completely understand the business case now and I can see why the drive to increase their share of the online gambling market is fronted by a vampire.
    One arm of the business creates the problem whilst the other side of the business gets paid to fix it.

    –these organisations don’t exist to serve us, we exist to serve them.