The abuse of our care workers

I have corrected a couple of typos in the original from February 2016 and can add the following.

I have now met with a couple of the original care workers and, despite the Scottish Government’s best efforts to ensure these workers are paid a proper living wage, the evidence strongly suggests nothing has changed and many are still being paid around £6 or so per hour. Argyll & Bute Council officers, and elected members, have known about my concerns for the best part of 4 years.

The responsibility for fixing this rests with officers but they have not done so. Their behaviour has been and remains utterly shameful. Instead, they pursued me with the Standards Commissioner for my persistence in raising this and other matters with them. They tried, in effect, to shut me up rather than address the problem. Now, to the blog as it was in February 16, with the typos fixed.

Apologies at the start for the length of this blog but the story needs explained properly.

I have written before about the scandalous manner in which some of the private care companies in Dunoon and Cowal treat their staff. I first raised this in 2013 and it’s been raised by me on numerous occasions over this past 3 years, all to no avail. Perhaps that’s inaccurate: what it has achieved is a complaint against me to the Standards Commissioner for my efforts.

The evidence I have seen is very strong indeed. It has come from care workers themselves and I have been shown their work rotas, payslips etc, some of which I still have in my possession. None of the people I have spoken wishes to be identified for fear of losing their jobs. I have had to anonymise the evidence I have been given and have passed this anonymous evidence to council officers over the last 3 years. It’s actually quite hard to anonymise: names of clients and the names of the staff need withheld, as do addresses and the names of the employers. What I have had to do is convert what I have been given into another format to ensure the staff cannot be identified. But, apparently, it’s not enough to convince council staff.

They could, of course, carry out an audit of the companies they contract with and ask to see the same information I have been given. In my view, it would be simple to find, with very little effort, so is there a willingness to find it?  Who knows.

Mr Cleland Sneddon is the person in the council overall in charge and the person to whom the evidence has been provided. The issue has also been raised on numerous occasions at Bute & Cowal area committees and business days. It’s also been raised by me at the Community Services committee so many councillors know about this too, includiong the council leader Cllr Walsh. The last time I raised the issue with Mr Sneddon was yesterday. The email trail is at this link:

email trail nov 15 to feb 16 re care workers

The Scottish Government recently took lots of flak from councils and Cosla over the funding settlement. The outgoing chief executive of Cosla, Rory Mair, seems to have saved up years of vitriol to attack the government over this. The councils, and Mair, conveniently ignored the fact that in the letter they got from John Swinney on 27 January, he was also giving a huge sum of money, £250 million, to fund social care. £125 million of this is aimed at all social care workers getting £8.25 per hour. The sad fact is that unless the conditions of employment of the care at home workers changes, John’s funding will not have the intended effect. But he’s not to blame: he won’t be fully aware of the illegal practices in the care at home sector. John’s letter to the councils can be found here:

Letter – LG Finance Settlement – 27 January 2016

Here’s how this scam works, based on evidence I have in my possession:

  • You pay your staff what looks like an attractive hourly rate. The example I will use here is a person working for a well-known national care company based in Dunoon. The headline rate is £7.68 per hour, not that far off John’s target of £8.25. Sadly, even if John’s £8.25 was paid, what follows demonstrates it would not even result in the current minimum wage of £6.70 being paid.

 

  • The council gives the care company work, saying Mrs X needs 30 minutes of care at such and such a time, Mr Y needs 60 minutes and Miss Z needs 45 minutes. The council only pays the company for these chunks of time at an agreed rate, somewhere between £14 and £16 or so an hour.

 

 

  • After her 30 minutes with Mrs X, our care worker leaves the centre of Dunoon and travels to, let’s say, Toward to see Mr Y. Her employer allows her 5 minutes to get from the centre of Dunoon to Toward but doesn’t pay her for the 5 minutes. (I have evidence of this because the end time for Mrs X and the start time for Mr Y shows a gap of 5 minutes.) The employer clearly thinks our care worker owns a jet pack and flies to Toward because the journey time is about 20 minutes by car. Care workers often have to lock up behind them, put the key in a safe box outside the person’s home, get to where their car is parked, drive, park then locate the safe box at the next person’s house then open up.

 

  • My assumed 20 minutes might actually be more than that in some cases. But none of this really matters because the care worker isn’t being paid for this time anyway by her employer and they will justify that by saying that’s because the council doesn’t pay them for that time, and that is true. The council only pays for the actual care time so the unscrupulous employer breaks the law by paying their staff in the same manner thereby breaching the minimum wage regulations.

 

  • Our care worker spends the hour looking after Mr Y then travels the 5 minutes or so it takes to see Miss Z, let’s say in Innellan. She is allocated 45 minutes with Miss Z and then is allowed 5 minutes to get to the next client who lives, say, in the outskirts of Dunoon. This journey actually takes closer to 10 minutes because I drove between the 2 addresses to test it. And on and on it goes day after day after day.

 

The point of going into the above detail is to demonstrate what can only be called illegal abuse of care staff by not paying them for all of the time they actually spend carrying out their jobs. Not paying between clients is illegal, be in no doubt about that, yet your council doesn’t appear to be interested in resolving the issue. That’s what you call the moral low ground in my view.

The day in question that starts as outlined above ends at about 10 to 7 in the evening when our care worker gets home. She is paid the grand total of £40.32 for her day’s work of 7 hours and 25 minutes, calculated exactly in line with how you calculate the minimum wage. This means she is paid a real hourly rate of £5.56. She is also paid a generous 10 pence per mile for using her own car for travel between clients.

In stark contrast, council staff and councillors in Argyll & Bute are paid 45 pence per mile and they claim for 2,457,000 miles at this rate. This is not a misprint, it really is 2.457 million miles a year. There would be howls of protest if staff and councillors were paid 10 pence per mile but it’s seemingly fine and dandy if our contractors do this. In total, taking all mileage into account, we travel 3.6 million miles a year here, much of it totally unnecessary. Double standards is too mild a term but at least I can print that.

Just to conclude this, another example of a day for the same care worker starts at the same time of 0700 and she works till 1100. She starts again at just after 1200 and works till just before 1500. She starts again at about 1645 and finishes with her last client at 2050 but 20 miles away from her home. In keeping with the pattern, she doesn’t get paid for the 30 minutes it takes her to get home. She gets home at 2120 and probably starts again at 7 the next morning, a breach of the Working Time Regulations. Her day takes her a total of 11 hours real working time for which she is paid £54.20 or £4.93 per hour.

I need to emphasise that not all the care companies operate in this way but from what I have gathered over the last 3 years, most of them do.

I don’t know about you but this abuse of people I find disgusting. The lack of action over almost 3 years by the council is equally disgusting. Saying so might result in yet another complaint against me to the Standards Commissioner but the truth needs to be told. This abuse has to stop.

 

 

A memory jogger

I was clearing out paperwork today and I came across a few things that may be of interest.

When I was asked to stand as a councillor in 2012, the big issue in Dunoon was the proposal to build an enormous super school in Kirn to house Dunoon, St Mun’s and Kirn primaries. The associated nurseries were also to go into the new build school. If I recall correctly, it would have had about 900 or so pupils and there was a huge campaign under way to try and reverse the decision to build this super campus.

What I found was that most people wanted their existing schools brought up to current standards through refurbishment and I campaigned for the May election on that basis. The problem was that everyone said they were told that the funds from the Scottish Government could only be used for a new build. I spoke to parents, teachers, non teaching staff and loads of other interested parties, all of whom said that was what they had been told.

To my surprise, after being elected, I was asked if I would take on the role of education lead councillor so the first thing I did was ask to meet with officials to see what work had been done to establish if the 3 schools could be refurbished. I found out that no such work had been done so I then asked to see the letter from the Scottish Government that offered funding for new schools. There were lots of glances between the people present but eventually I got a copy of the letter. This had been sent to the council on October 2009.

On the 1st page, I saw what I had been looking for. The government was offering 50% of the costs and the letter stated: “whether new build or refurbishment“. To be fair, they were only offering funds for one primary school at that point but the public was completely unaware of the funding being available for refurbishment.

So who took the decision to try and foist an unwanted super campus on the people of Dunoon? Who managed to misread the letter or, worse, ignore the word refurbishment? These questions will forever be unanswered but the furore this super campus caused means the way this was handled will also be unforgiven.

The other matter of interest was something from the induction pack I got as a new councillor. There was one page with advice on it, one section of which was printed in very large type. I need say no more on this I guess:

If you stood and were elected on a party ticket, it was the party who endorsed you as a candidate, but it was the community who elected you. Your primary duty and accountability is therefore to the local community.

 

Budget approved last week

I have had lots of people asking what was agreed last week and what was not. Given that the budget motion was only presented on the day, it wasn’t that simple to answer the questions posed so I asked strategic finance staff for a breakdown. The reply was helpful as expected and was as follows:

I attach a file called Budget Approved and this has three worksheets in it:

·         Breakdown of 2015-16 to 2016-17 budget

·         Breakdown on closing the funding gap

·         Detail of unallocated general fund following decision at Council.

I also attach a file that details the savings approved, in part and in full, and those that were rejected.

 

The files referred to above are available at the links below. I hope this answers the questions asked of me but if not, ask again please.

Budget Approved 2016-17

Savings Options Approved – Accept and Reject

The really sad aspect of all of this is that some council staff were put through the mill over many months only to find their jobs saved. Worse, others went through the same process to find their jobs were to go. The Reform Group proposals were rejected but these would have affected far fewer people, most of them higher paid.

The council had to find savings of just over £10m but you might like to know that almost a quarter of this was due to the UK Government making a change to the way national insurance contributions are made. There has always been a rebate scheme for employers whose staff are in an occupational pension scheme but this has been removed. In effect, Osborne has imposed an additional employment tax on many employers and in our case this amounted to £2.324m.

More to follow in due course because although I have given you the breakdown in the files above, how some of the savings are to be made is most unclear. For example, there is a cut in travel costs, totally unexplained. But did you know that the council pays staff and councillors for some 3.6 million miles of travel a year, 2.457 million of which are paid at 45p per mile?

Just think about these numbers for a moment as they are mind boggling.

Council Budget

The council administration set its budget yesterday, a very different budget to what had been predicted but still 82 staff will lose their jobs. Read The Buteman’s take on it here:

http://www.buteman.co.uk/news/local-headlines/argyll-and-bute-council-s-2016-17-budget-the-details-1-4028292

The Reform Group budget got 3 votes, ie from the 3 members of our group so at least we didn’t break ranks !

The SNP let us see their budget a full 30 minutes before the meeting and it was so badly presented it would have taken hours to work out what it really meant. So much for cooperation from the so called main opposition group. The first contact with us was late on Tuesday by way of a phone call and few details were given. However, what they wanted to protect were many of the things we wanted to protect but they would not give details. I emailed asking for a copy of their proposals 1st thing Wednesday morning and it was ignored. Had we had a reasonable time to consider it, we might have been able to support it.

What you need to know, though, is that the way the council constitution is structured you can only vote for one amendment. Had we been able to vote for all amendments, we could have voted for our own and the SNP’s, had we wanted to, but this just isn’t possible.

There needs to be some serious re-think by the SNP Group about some form of opposition to Walsh and his Lib Dem/Tory/so called independent rag bag administration. I can say that I have asked members of the group so many times to consider this but they won’t as yet play ball.

I feel for the staff losing their jobs and for those who, for many weeks, were left with the stress and worry over losing theirs only to find the threat lifted in a cynical move yesterday. This is deplorable behaviour and I hope Walsh and his administration give these staff an early assurance that the same shocking treatment won’t happen to them again next year. But don’t hold your breath.

The suggestion, relative to our budget, that chief officers might claim constructive dismissal was made again by Mr Hendry in the council chamber yesterday. I have this morning asked for some justification of this, why no mention was made of staff other than chief officers and why this was only mentioned the day before the meeting, when officers have had our proposals for three weeks.

Yesterday was an opportunity lost for major reform of this council.

 

Budget Day

Today is the council budget day. After much work and professional help from strategic finance officers, we finally have a budget that’s been deemed competent.

The amendment we will submit today is at the link below.

reform group amendment 11 feb 16

The appendix, which gives more detail, is at the link below.

reform group appendix 11 feb 16

Let’s hope we get some support because the feedback from the public has been very strongly in favour. I have no idea what our fellow councillors will do mind you !

 

Reform Group Budget

I had hoped to be able to let you see a final version of the budget earlier today but we still do not know if officers will accept that our budget  is competent. There have been a number of last minute queries/comments, some of which could have been asked/made 3 weeks ago. One of these was that, since we’re proposing management cuts rather than front line ones:

this proposal will create a basis for the majority, if not all, of the Chief Officers to pursue claims for constructive dismissal/compulsory redundancy and resulting cost would be significant. 

Make of this what you will folks but we have pointed out that if true, then all of the front line staff affected by what the administration is proposing could also claim constructive dismissal.

Anyway, the latest version of our budget proposal can be seen at the link below.

budget details appendix 10 february

 

Argyll & Bute Budget Day 11 Feb.

Thursday this week sees the council meeting to set the budget for the coming year but also to try and get council agreement on other elements of the flawed Service Choices process for future years. The stakes could not be higher.

The council administration putting forward these fundamentally unfair and damaging proposals are also the same people who seem to have no interest in the things that go wrong in this council. Michael Russell has today put a very succinct post on Blipfoto which is well worth a read at this link:

https://www.polaroidblipfoto.com/entry/2142718417373759417

Some weeks ago I had a post on this blog that outlined some other financial failures and I provided an edited copy of an email sent to all councillors. The leader and his depute, Dick Walsh and Ellen Morton have not replied to any of it. I am truly astounded at what I call The Argyll & Bute Way: ignore a problem or something you don’t like and maybe it will disappear. That’s what this pair do all the time and they are not the only ones. The blog I refer to is at this link:

https://blog.breslin.scot/2016/01/15/dunoon-gourock-ferry-and-how-argyll-bute-works/

I can now say that the £1.2m burn of council cash referred to in the above was/will be by the Employability Team since 2011 when Ellen Morton chaired a meeting that allowed the team to expand geographically. It had been a very successful operation until then but the geographic expansion was its downfall. The reason I can identify this now is because they refer in the publicly available budget papers to the £456,000 bailout they approved for the team in November. Yes, half a million pounds but the total will be £1.2m by the time the team is wound up.

Alan Stewart has also found out about the huge cost of external legal advice referred to in Michael’s Blipfoto post. Despite having 8 lawyers, they spend close to £150,000 of your money and mine every year on external legal advice.

Read all of this please and then ask yourself if you really want Cllrs Walsh and Morton handling your council’s funds. I know what my view is.

I hope to publish the final version of the Reform Group’s budget on Wednesday. There will be changes from what was published on this blog at the link below but the broad thrust of it will not alter.

https://blog.breslin.scot/2016/01/20/budget-proposal-from-the-reform-group/