Concern over care service

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MAJOR concerns over the governance of a scheme which aims to help people live more independently has led to senior councillors putting the contract out to tender.

Hartlepool Borough Council awarded Who Cares (NE) a contract worth £680,000 over two years back in 2011 to run a handyperson, connected care and independent living service across town.

The contract is due to end in March, but there is an option to extend it subject to satisfactory performance and funding.

But Mayor Stuart Drummond – backed by cabinet colleagues at a council meeting – expressed “major concerns” about the governance arrangements and called for the contract to be put out to tender.

Labour councillor Kevin Cranney, chairman of Who Cares (NE), has hit back and said the Mayor is wrong to question the governance and said it boils down to a perceived lack of transparency when the original contract was awarded, as it was not put out to tender.

Speaking after the meeting he said the organisation has “nothing to hide” and would compete for the contract to prove they were best placed to provide services.

Mayor Drummond raised concerns that seven out of the original nine board members had resigned since the contract, which involves council and PCT money, was awarded.

Coun Cranney said there is currently six board members in place with a further six not yet signed up.

The model uses navigators as a first point of contact for residents with health and social care problems and the service aims to help people stay independent, especially vulnerable older people.

The service has had more than 2,000 referrals in a year.

During the meeting, Mayor Drummond, said: “It shows what a positive affect this sort of service can have in the community and how much it does help improve lives.

“That has to be welcomed but what concerns me is around the governance of the organisation.

“There is a lot of question marks over it and I would be more comfortable if we looked at going out to tender again just to make sure everything is in place and we can be 100 per cent sure that it is being governed properly.”

Jill Harrison, the council’s assistant director of adult social care, said majority of the funding comes from the NHS and the new Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) would only commit funding to April 2014.

Mrs Harrison added it would be a “difficult proposition” to attract bids as it may end up only being a nine-month contract after the tender process.

Mayor Drummond said he would expect Who Cares (NE) to bid but said the current contract needs “tightening up”.

Independent councillor Paul Thompson said this should have happened months ago while independent councillor Cath Hill said concerns had been there a long time and accused the council of being “slipshod”.

But Dave Stubbs, the council’s chief executive, said he didn’t believe officers had made mistakes.

Mayor Drummond added: “There are concerns, major concerns, around the governance around the contract which is why we are doing what we are doing.”

Coun Cranney said afterwards the original contract was not subject to a tender process due to a European directive on health and social care and that legal advice was taken to ensure it was done correctly.

He added: “As far as we are concerned this is about the transparency of the original contract.

“The governance has nothing to do with it, you can run a company with only one director.

“I am happy to go out to tender to prove that the best service is being delivered. Lets do the tender process as there is nothing to hide.

“My only concern is for our clients and particularly the vulnerable.”

The board members resigned because of work commitments, family circumstances and ill-health.

Who Cares (NE) is a community interest company with bases at Manor Residents’ Association, Burbank and West View.