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

Author: Michael Breslin

I am no longer a councillor with Argyll & Bute Council but given the appalling treatment I got from the senior officers and a few elected members, I plan to continue keeping an eye on what the council is doing.

3 thoughts on “How Argyll & Bute works: the sad tale of the care workers”

  1. Mike,

    This certainly looks like casual acceptance of exploitation by both the Council and some/all (?) care contractors with the former in denial despite fairly unequivocal evidence that many care workers are not receiving their full financial entitlement. You say the Council doesn’t recognise a problem but what do you mean by “…get this fixed…” in the final sentence of your penultimate paragraph? On the face of it there has been a clear breach of employment legislation with local authority heads in the sand!

    Aye, Iain

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    1. What I mean is that the efforts made to try and remedy the situation within the council have not worked. I have been told that I have not produced the necessary evidence but my view is that the paper that went to the March meeting that’s been referred to is proof enough that there is a large scale problem.

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  2. In addition I have recently discovered that the Council is using zero hours contracts for some care workers it employs and has no plans as far as I can see, to end that practice. It has also reduced hours for some of its workers in a way that has created real hardship.

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