Monday, 16 September 2013

Brent Council to rely on volunteers for Meals on Wheels provision

Brent Executive approved the handing over of the provision of Meals on Wheels and meals at Day Care Centres to the voluntary sector this evening. There were passionate speeches by Brent Fightback and Labour Party members Michael Calderbank and Graham Durham expressing concern over the proposals and posing some incisive questions. Their speeches caused Cllr Pavey to hesitate saying they had raised legitimate concerns and Cllr Denselow said that he could see the concern, in an era of cuts, over a Big Society style solution, but he preferred to see it as a cooperative solution offering vulnerable people choice and control.

Calderbank expressed concern over redundancies at the current provider, payments to be made to new providers, whether the voluntary organisations would be paid the London Living Wage that the Council had committed itself to, the report's 'high risk' with  'medium' probability assessment that vulnerable people may go without a meal with a number of different voluntary sector providers.

Stressing he was not opposed to voluntary organisations providing services, but that this should not be  a cover for cuts, or at the cost of a reduction in quality, he asked about monitoring of quality and hygiene standards, and wanted confirmation that the new service would not longer provide puddings.
Calderbank said he couldn't believe that the Council was going ahead on the basis of such a small pilot project with one provider. This was not a strong basis for a major change. He asked what sanctions would be applied to providers who dropped out.

Durham said that he has spoken to the minister at Harlesden Methodist Church which had operated the pilot and found that the only person to be employed was a 0.7 cook, all the rest delivering the service would be volunteers. This was not a partnership with the voluntary sector but reliance on unpaid volunteers. The Council was creating no jobs and guilty of creating unemployment when it was already at 8.4%

Through the NHS Patients group he had heard complaints about food being undercooked, the lack of puddings and food put into one container like baby food.

He said with disparate providers there was a need for strong contract compliance to ensure  continuity of quality of food and reliability of delivery. The real motive seemed to be the £300,000 of 'savings' - where was the Council's much vaunted London Living Wage?

Phil Porter, Acting Director of Adult Social Services, responded rather than Cllr Krupesh Hirani, lead member for Adult Social Care, who was absent from the Executive Meeting. Porter said the changes had been drivem by better service and increasing cost and control, not by cuts. The previous provider had provided only one option from their base in Leicester. The new range of suppliers would give more choice. The Council had been honest in publishing negative comments from service users but the 8 in the pilot had been 'very happy. (In fact the pilot numbers were reduced to six with one dissatisfied and seeking alternatives and 'very happy' doesn't really describe some of the other users' comments),

He said there would be no change of service for vulnerable individuals without a review of their needs carried out by social workers to understand their capacity and support network- managing risk was part of the review.

There was no contract compliance because the Council had a new role facilitating the market rather than establishing a contractual relationship. This was part of a broader move which the Council was undertaking. It created a challenge and removed the comfort blanket of a single provider.

Porter said the Council couldn't make the providers commit to the London Living Wage  - they could only encourage them t pay it. It was fundamental to give power to the provider and all the support required to make sure the provision is also safe, The scheme would deliver savings and a better service.

He said 5 or 6* people employed by Apetito in Brent would be affected by redundancy. He could make no undertaking that jobs would be created because some providers would be able to provide within their existing infrastructure and others may not. 

Cllr Roxanne Mashari intervened to say that she had been concerned about nutritional standards being maintained in the new arrangements and had visited Cricklewood Homeless Concern to see their provision. As a result she thought it was a fantastic move and should have been made earlier. The food was fresh meat and fish, fruits such as avocado, not baby food, and was served in ceramic type containers. Cricklewood Homeless Concern were able to build on their existing relationships with their clients.

To protests from the audience that their questions had not all been answered, the Executive went on to approve the new arrangements.

* Please note earlier version because of a typographical error rendered this figure as 506. My apologies.

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