Leicestershire County Council care homes: Is this right deal for our elderly?
The company set to buy nine Leicestershire council homes for the elderly has failed to meet standards of care at six of the seven homes it runs in Essex. Politics Correspondent Dan Martin investigates
A private company poised to buy nine Leicestershire County Council homes for the elderly is failing to meet essential standards of care at most of its existing establishments.
Conservative-run County Hall says it hopes to complete a deal with Southend Care at the end of the month which will see the firm take over the running of the homes, insisting it is the "right decision".
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However, the latest inspection reports by Care Quality Commission (CQC), the watchdog for the care industry, show six of the firm's seven homes in Essex are falling short of Government-required standards of care.
The county council's Liberal Democrat Opposition group has now raised concerns about the suitability of Southend Care to run the homes which employ 450 people and look after 350 elderly residents.
Councillor Simon Galton, Liberal Democrat leader, said: "There are a lot of things in the inspection reports that give us cause for concern.
"We have tried to raise these issues with the council but have been ignored. The CQC reports about Southend Care do not fill us with confidence.
"The Conservatives are desperate to get rid of these homes, which they see as a millstone and I think they are pushing through a bad deal."
The Liberal Democrats have also called into question the proposed deal which will hand the care homes to the company from September 28 but permit payment for them to be deferred.
The council's cabinet made the decision to proceed with transfer in a meeting behind closed doors on Friday, September 14, saying it could not release full details because the release of commercially sensitive information could jeopardise the signing of the deal this Friday.
Coun Galton said: "I think it's madness to hand over such an important asset and then say, 'just pay us later'.
"Would the Conservatives do that with their own property? Of course they wouldn't.
"I would also like to know what happens at the end of the deferment period if Southend Care cannot pay up.
"When this deal was first announced there was no suggestion of a deferred payment, so what has changed? I fear it could lead to upheaval for the residents.
"This is an astonishingly bad deal but the Tories have gone so far with it they won't back out and reconsider.
"They are hiding behind what they call commercial sensitivities to avoid answering difficult but very important questions."
The Southend Care deal was first approved by the county council in March last year when bosses said it would save the authority £1 million annually, while guaranteeing residents' places and allowing private investment for improvements at the ageing homes, which the council could not afford itself.
Now, the county council estimates it will save the authority £375,000 annually.
Southend Care has set up a new company, Leicestershire County Care Ltd, to run the homes. The Mercury made numerous attempts to contact Southend Care director Dr Davie Vive-Kananda but he was unavailable.
The Mercury asked senior council officers if they were aware of the CQC reports, why it was permitting a deferred payment on the homes and what would happen if the payment was not made at the end of the period.
The council said it was aware of the reports but declined to answer any questions about the deal before the transfer took place.
However, it issued a statement saying: "The council is transferring these homes to safeguard their future and that of the residents living there.
"Under the agreement, the new owner will invest in updating the homes, which the council could not afford to do.
"As the transfer has not yet taken place, the financial details and terms of the deal are commercially confidential.
"The council carried out all relevant checks before agreeing the transfer and the CQC approved the registration of Leicestershire County Care Ltd to run the homes."
Deputy council leader and cabinet member for adult services Councillor David Sprason said: "We have read the CQC reports on Southend Care.
"A lot of the issues raised are minor points and there have not been any serious concerns.
"It is scare-mongering. I am sad the Liberal Democrats are playing politics with the lives of elderly people.
"This move will safeguard the future of the homes and the care of the residents.
"Simon Galton made a representation to cabinet and officers.
"We listened to him and on balance we decided this is the right decision.
"Some £4 million is needed to bring the homes up to standard, which is money we can't afford."
Coun Sprason said he would not be able to discuss the deferred payment until the deal was signed and the transfer was complete.
He said: "I can't talk about it. You'll have to wait."
County Hall's assistant director of adults and communities, Sandy McMillan, said: "The great majority of the issues raised in relation to Southend Care are minor.
"There are a much smaller number of moderate issues.
"It would be wrong to suggest these are homes that the CQC has serious concerns about. We are happy with the standards in Southend Care's home.
"We don't take any of the matters lightly and we have asked Southend Care what they are doing about them."
Tony Donovan, executive director of Age UK Leicestershire, which unsuccessfully bid against Southend Care to run one of the homes, said: "There was never a suggestion there would be a deferred payment during the bidding and now it appears.
"I find that very concerning. We would have had the money for the county council up front.
"That said, I hope this will bring to an end a period of uncertainty for all the residents in the homes and their families as well as the staff."