Decision day for Phoenix Centre’s future

CONTROVERSIAL plans which could pave the way for private companies to take over learning disability services at the Phoenix Centre in Rothesay were set to be debated by councillors as this issue of The Buteman went to press.

A report for Argyll and Bute Council’s special committee on older people’s services (SCOPS) recommends that learning disability day services at the Phoenix Centre – and at five other local authority facilities throughout the area – should be put out to tender.

The report, which was due to be considered by SCOPS members on Wednesday, also recommends that day services based in buildings, such as the Phoenix Centre, should be replaced by community-based alternatives – even though service users expressed “strong support” for retaining buildings – because the community option represented better value for money.

Bute resident Robin Taylor, whose son Crawford attends the Phoenix Centre, told us he believed the plans to put the service out to tender were “crazy”.

“We’re very, very anti,” Robin told us. “We reckon if the service goes private the whole thing will just go to ratchet.

“A private provider won’t pay the same number of staff the same wages, so all that will happen is the current staff will leave and be replaced by people who are on lower wages or who are less well qualified.

“We haven’t started protesting yet, but if and when the council does go down that road we’ll do everything we can to make sure the service stays the way it is.”

Subject to the approval by SCOPS members of the recommendation, contracts could be awarded to several different ‘external providers’ by December, and could begin operating by April 2012.

Councillor Len Scoullar, the only Bute-based SCOPS member, told us: “Right back at the start of this project the council leader made it quite clear that in respect both of elderly people and those with a learning disability, in no way must the service to the client or customer be of a poorer quality than they are receiving.

“The Care Commission itself recommends that buildings-based services such as those at the Phoenix Centre are not the way we should be going, and that there should be more care in the community – I’ve been to the centre, and been very impressed with what they are doing, but if the Care Commission recommends another way of doing things the council has to pay attention.

“My aim is always to provide the best service to the people in our community who need it most, and I would hope the committee will endorse that view.

“The process was never set up with the primary intention of saving money – it was to try and live with the Care Commission’s recommendations and at the same time deliver the service that is most appropriate to the clients’ needs.”