Residential services should not be privatised

Today I have written to Penny Thompson, Chief Executive of Brighton and Hove City Council, to object to proposals to privatise seven residential services for people learning disabilities situated in the City.

The swingeing budget cuts, imposed by the Coalition government, are putting relentless pressure on the city council to cut their spending on key services. They are driving many councils towards privatisation, whilst current procurement legislation makes it very difficult to avoid the formal tendering process – and private bidders have to be included even if a council wants to keep a service in house.
But privatising the services upon which some of our most vulnerable people rely is a false economy. If the same level of care and service is to be maintained but profit also found, there is a real risk that outsourcing will mean services on the cheap or erosion of staff pay and conditions.
Private isn’t always better as the Winterbourne scandal will always remind us. Research from the Audit Commission report ‘For better, for worse’ has shown that the process of switching to private companies is complex and time consuming. Furthermore, contracting out to these companies can be particularly costly in itself. The anticipated benefits often don’t always happen. So I am worried that the potential risks to people with learning disabilities, in terms of quality of care, may not outweigh the benefits of cutting costs.
My Public Service Users Bill is part of the solution, as it would make public ownership the default option. But in the meantime, I’ll keep campaigning against the privatisation of our vital public services, as well as for proper funding for the services local authorities provide. The users of the city’s residential services for people with learning disabilities deserve as much.
Thanks to pressure the council has now agreed to look again at how it provides support to Learning Disabled service users. I look forward to local councillors now finding a way to ensure residential services remain out of the private sector.

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