How Argyll & Bute Works: Alcohol and Drugs Partnership (ADP)

It’s hard to know where to start with this story and I am not sure where this story will end but I think it’s fair to say we have something of a mess on our hands with the Argyll & Bute Alcohol & Drugs Partnership generally known as the ADP.

The funding for ADPs comes from the Scottish Government and it flows through the NHS. The council, the NHS and various other bodies, mostly 3rd sector organisations, form the ADP. The ADP in Argyll & Bute has had lots of difficulties over a number of years. The 3rd sector organisations take the view that the council and the NHS have never treated them as equals and the 3rd sector organisations are viewed by the others as a difficult and fractious bunch. I don’t know enough about the history to take a view on this nor will I. What I plan to do is relate as best I can why and how we have got to where we are.

The 3rd sector organisations had contracts with the ADP to deliver various services and had these for many years. These organisations were locally based, an example being OASIS in Oban and Kaleidoscope in Dunoon. These organisations had boards comprising volunteers from the local communities and, through good times and bad, excellent  work was done by these volunteers, and  their staff, to provide a service to people affected directly or indirectly by drug and alcohol issues. The contracts were via Service Level Agreements and these were generally renewed each year. At some point someone decided that the service delivery was to be the subject of a formal tendering procedure. Getting to the bottom of all of this hasn’t been easy, not least because the ADP appears to have been badly administered, with meetings not being minuted, decisions being made behind closed doors etc, all of which ended up being the subject of a report from Audit Scotland, of which more later.

The report from Audit Scotland can be found at the link below this paragraph. It is very critical of the way the ADP operated and identifies many shortcomings but it then leaves the issues to be sorted out by the very people who created them in the first place. It’s like going to the doctor with some mysterious illness, for the doctor to diagnose what it is but then he tells you to find your own remedy. There are also issues within it that do not appear to have been tested, eg the assurances given by certain parties were not tested for accuracy according to some 3rd sector staff. Auditors and triangulation should be like peas in a pod.

ADPartnershipReview_ABC060515_final_version

This report went to the June meeting of the council’s audit committee and Iain Angus MacDonald, Gordon Blair and myself spent a day together the week before the audit meeting to try and agree on what questions we would ask. There were so many unanswered questions that we had to be quite choosy about which ones to ask. On the day we did not have enough time to ask all our questions and some of the ones we did ask we did not get a satisfactory reply to.

In late June we asked a number of questions of officers and Cllrs Armour, MacLean and Strong added their names to our 3. We met again in Oban in mid July to try and establish what more we could do and we came across some astonishing information related to the non transfer under TUPE of staff previously employed by the 3rd sector.

We got replies to some of our questions last week but some of what we asked for was denied to us by officers. The position as of 28 July is summed up in the document below which is our questions and the answers we got to at least some of them. There will be more on this because further questions still need to be asked. I have spoken to Audit Scotland this week and will be doing so again on Thursday. To be frank, we will need their assistance if this mess is to be sorted out. In the document at the link below, the replies we got are coloured in blue below each question.

ADP questions plus replies to 280715

How argyll & Bute works: giving councillors the mushroom treatment

I have written before about the excessive secrecy within the council so let me give you a brief update with some further examples of this:

Budget issues

Officers have refused to provide me with the budget pack which was taken off me at the end of the budget seminar in June, see here for more information and subsequent posts on this subject. Officers are not giving me the pack but they are saying this is not their fault but that of councillors. Cllr Walsh says he never told them to do this so who did? To make the position even more ridiculous, officers got someone to go through the pack taken off me and to type out my notes, which they then emailed to me. What a waste of staff time.

Castle Toward

I have asked several times what due diligence was carried out on the purchasers of Castle Toward to ensure that they have the resources, financial and otherwise, to complete the development they say they will do. In particular, I asked where the very high number of jobs created came from and from what bits of the business. I  am still being told I can’t get this so today I have made it a Freedom of Information request, rather reluctantly. The danger in this is that they can then say they can’t release it due to commercial confidentiality so I will probably never get the information I am looking for.

Alcohol & Drugs Partnership (ADP)

A number of councillors have been asking a lot of questions about the contract for addiction services that the council tendered for in 2014. I plan to do a separate post on this subject but, for the moment, you might like to know that officers have refused us access to an internal review of the tender carried out by officers (ie officers arguably investigating themselves) and they have refused access to the external legal advice sought on the tender. They won’t even tell us what questions were asked of the external legal advisers.

The question I have to ask is this: to whom are these officers accountable if not to us, the elected councillors? Answers on a postcard please.

How Argyll & Bute works: update on various matters

Sale of Castle Toward and the Bute & Cowal Area Committee

I am still no further forward with getting any evidence to support the assertion that the bypassing of the area committee for the sale of this property was because it was a “strategic” property and some years ago the council had agreed only the full council could sell it. For the earlier story, read here. I am continuing to pursue this because if a council is to operate properly, then the constitution needs to be adhered to at all times. I have offered officers the opportunity to say they made a mistake but that offer hasn’t been taken up.

Castle Toward and its recent sale by the council

I can’t say too much about this due to the paper agreeing the sale being exempt. However, I have asked officers what due diligence was carried out on the purchasers to ensure they had the means, financial and otherwise, to do what they claim they will do. In particular, I asked from what parts of the proposed development did all the claimed jobs come from. I can’t tell you how many were claimed but I can say it was a very high number. Officers have refused point blank to tell me anything.

You would think that the local elected member should know this kind of thing but in the dark and secretive world of so called democracy in Argyll & Bute, nothing should surprise you.

The plight of the care workers.

The story can be read here. I have been taking external advice on this from a trade union and the STUC and have asked more questions about compliance with statutory guidance local authorities should follow when contracting out services. I have also spoken to 2 more care workers who contacted me as a result of the article at the preceding link. The pattern remains the same: there is strong evidence that there is widespread employment malpractice within the industry locally.

More updates to follow soon.

How Argyll & Bute works: the sad tale of the care workers

Sorry folks, an unfinished version of this was published by mistake earlier, This is what you should have got.

One of the issues in the complaint against me by the senior officers of the council relates to the privatisation of the council’s care at home service. While I am unable to mention anything of what is in the complaint, I can give you a summary of the problem the council has created for the people involved and the local economy. Up front I have to admit my part in this because at my very first council meeting in June 2012, the privatisation paper was on the agenda. It was, as usual, an exempt item so I can’t say much about what was in the paper but I can say what wasn’t in it, ie there was no mention of the pay and conditions likely to be paid to the care workers.

I recall the council leader at that time, Roddy MacCuish, telling us we simply had to vote this paper through. Roddy told us that privatising parts of the care at home service had been a piece of work undertaken over many years and which had involved an expensive procurement exercise. Some of us wanted to delay the matter until we found out more about it but we were told this would mean the procurement exercise would need to be re-run at considerable cost. Despite our reservations, we voted it through. I sincerely wish I had not done so because of the effect this has had on the workforce and the Bute and Cowal economies.

The system we now have is based on a needs assessment carried out by the council. We define the amount of time a person needs care for and when. We define what care is required and how many care workers need to be in attendance. So, as an example, we might say Mrs X needs 15 minutes of care around 0800, then 30 minutes around 1800.

We then ask one of the care contractors to carry out these defined periods of care. We only pay them for the care minutes at whatever the agreed rate is.  In my example of Mrs X, assuming the same time is needed every day, that comes to 5.25 hours of care a week so we pay the contractor 5.25 times the agreed hourly rate.

The contractor then allocates the care to a care worker or workers. This is when practices vary among the care contractors. It appears to be the case that the larger contractors then pay the workers for the same amount of care time multiplied by the rate paid to the care workers. In a situation when this happens, the care staff don’t get paid for any additional time taken with the person they are caring for and don’t get paid for the travel time between clients.

I raised this issue with officers in September 2013 some 6 months after the issue was raised with me by a care worker. Since then Gordon Blair and myself have met with others and the story is much the same from all of them. It was raised again in March this year in an email to all councillors and to Mr Sneddon who is in overall charge of this service. This email is available below (plus the sample work rota) and these explain in some detail what happens. The bottom line is that Gordon and I have come across care workers who are getting paid around £5 per hour despite the headline rate being £7 or so per hour. This is because if they are not paid between clients this breaches the National Minimum Wage.

email to all councillors 9 March 2015

sample work rota

We have come across care workers who either don’t get any travel costs paid or who only get a small amount for using their own cars. We have spoken to care workers who say they are having to work 80 to 90 hours a week just to get by. The evidence these care workers have given us is compelling but absolutely no changes have been made by the council.

There is a wider economic argument here too. Just about every economist will tell you that the poorer people are the more likely it is that they spend all their income in the local economy. Richer people import expensive cars, invest their cash abroad and take exotic holidays. Poor people are not able to do this so they spend their money on the basics. Any so called savings to the council come straight out of the pockets of the care workers and those “savings” are also lost to our local economy. It’s disgraceful that this council has done this and what’s worse is that they won’t accept that there is a problem. Instead, they have used what I have done to try and get this fixed as part of their complaint against me.

If anyone knows anyone working in the care sector and who has concerns about their employment conditions, I would be happy to speak to them on a confidential basis. Contact me on michael@breslin.scot

How Argyll & Bute works: Castle Toward and the saga of the area committee

In a number of previous posts, I have referred to the fact that the area committee was bypassed when the Castle Toward estate sale was being considered. The most recent post on this is here.

It’s worth reading the link in the above post to the correspondence to see what I was told about a previous decision of the council, details of which could not be found. The correspondence is now in the hands of Audit Scotland and I am meeting with them again later in July to discuss this and other issues.

I have been doing a bit of research into the scandalous history of the Castle Toward estate and I recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council. This resulted in me getting a pack of information through the post today. One of the documents was a minute of a meeting held in late 2003 where it was agreed to refer the sale of Castle Toward to the same area committee that is today being bypassed time and time again.

I have today sent the following email  to Mr Hendry, copy to Cllr Walsh, and I hope this helps them find the missing minute. I will update you once it appears.

Mr Hendry, I have just been reading the minute of the Strategic Policy Committee held on 2 October 2003 at which you and Cllr Walsh were in attendance.

At item 21 it was agreed to “pursue the commercial disposal of Castle Toward and its policies by lease or sale” and “to remit powers to the Bute and Cowal Area Committee to deal with the marketing and disposal of the property”.

You told me on 22 June, see below, that the policy on this being a “strategic” property with disposal only by the full council had been in place for “at least 10 years”. You also had earlier told me you were unable to trace the minute that reflects this. 10 years takes us back to 2005 and the decision to let the area committee handle this was made, as we now know, in October 2003.

That means that the decision to reverse the one made on 2 October 2003 was made sometime between that date and some point in the first half of 2005. On the assumption that such a reversal is unlikely to have occurred within 6 months of 2 October 2003, that leaves us the period from April 2004 to, say, June 2005 or just over a year. At the outside, there is a 20 month period involved.

I hope this information is helpful to you because it must surely now be simple to establish when the decision you can’t find was made.

I look forward to your reply at the earliest opportunity with a copy of the minute in question.

Thank you

How Argyll & Bute works: Castle Toward: Michael Russell’s questions and more

Some of you may have seen Michael Russell’s list of 10 questions to the chief executive of the council. In case you didn’t, here they are:

The questions asked by Mr Russell are as follows:

1) When did the prospective purchasers first approach the Council ?

2) What discussions did the Council have with the prospective purchasers prior to the end of the Community Bid in February?

3) Did any Councillor or official name the prospective purchasers and their company tor councillors in  January and/or February when asked about alternative bids should the community bid fail ?

4) Why did the leader of the Council affirm at the time of the community bid that the property would not be sold for less than the valuation when the property is now being sold for less than the valuation?

5) Given that the purchase price of £1.51 million is divided into three parts, the first of which (£1.1 million) is due on the 30th of September will the council confirm that it did not offer the community a chance to match that price and why it did not do so ?

6) Will the Council confirm the total cost to the Council since the failed community purchase concluded regarding security and maintenance up to 30th September and indicate how far ,if at all, that sum added to the community offer made in February differs from the sum due on 30th September.

7) Will the Council publish the terms under which the balance of the purchase price will be due and indicate what the Council will have to do to secure that balance and within what timescale.

8) Will the Council indicate what due diligence was undertaken on the bid from the prospective purchasers and in particular what assurances and guarantees were given regarding the eventual expenditure of £28 million on developing the site as estimated by the developers and quoted in the report to the Council?

9) Will the Council indicate what advice was given to Councillors regarding the sources of funding for the bid by the prospective purchasers given that , for the community bid, much adverse comment was made by officials regarding the communities heavy dependence on public funds ?

10) What external assessment of the bid by the prospective purchasers was either offered by the developers or sought by the Council  given that the community bid was positively assessed by HIE , the Scottish Government and the Scottish Land Fund ?

I have also asked some questions but I am unable to give all of the detail since the paper that was the basis for the approval of the sale was an exempt item. However, I can paraphrase what  I asked an officer of the council, as follows:

What due diligence was carried out to ensure that the purchasers have the means, financial and otherwise, to complete the purchase and fulfil the plans for the estate?

In particular, what was the breakdown of the jobs they say will be created, ie how many and from which parts of the proposed business?

I asked these on 29 June. I had no reply so asked again on 7 July. Today I was told I could not be told anything due to the confidentiality clause that appears to be in place. So much for the local ward councillor knowing what the council has done about the sale of a major asset in his own ward. The secrecy in this council is beyond belief.

How Argyll & Bute Works: Castle Toward again

I am unable to say much about the deal to sell Castle Toward because it was an exempt item at last Thursday’s council meeting. The paper was tabled on the day and we only got to read it just before the item was taken.

Readers may recall that I take the view property sales should be handled by the area committees of the council because that is what I believe the constitution says. However, the sale of Castle Toward has never gone near the Bute & Cowal Area Committee for reasons that remain far from clear.

I have been pursuing this because, if I am correct and it should have gone to the area committee, someone is playing fast and loose with the constitution. Despite much time and effort I have made no progress at all. The correspondence has today been passed to Audit Scotland and you can read it at the link below. If you can’t be bothered reading it all, here’s a wee gem from it.

I was told at one point that it was deemed a “strategic” property and that “strategic” properties could only be sold by the full council. I was also told that this decision had been reached some time ago by the council. I asked to see the minute of this meeting but regrettably they could not find it ! How odd.

area committee and castle toward issue