Peter Mallinson – more questions than answers

To the Swindon Advertiser Letters Page

Peter Mallinson – more questions than answers

Peter Mallinson’s irate response to a letter of mine in relation to Homecare raises more questions than he answers. In the first instance he gives us average hours worked based on 64 staff. Yet I believe 12 of these staff did not deliver Homecare themselves. Six of them were supervisors who carried out assessments and trained staff, five were admin staff, and one was a manager. Of the 52 left only 3 were full-time. The rest worked shifts of either 15, 22.5 or 30 hours a week.

Certainly 450 hours shared amongst 52 is not a lot. But Mr Mallinson does not explain when this figure related to or why it was so low. Of course, once it was clear they had lost the contract the amount of work was bound to decline.

In his various comments in the Adver Mr Mallinson gave the impression that this situation was the fault of the workers themselves. He said that instead of campaigning in defence of their jobs they should be trying to improve their ‘performance’ and ‘productivity’, as if they weren’t working hard enough. Of course they could only do the work their managers gave them. Indeed I know that the staff were asking for more work. Given the fact that when the contract was given they were contracted to work 1,800 hours a week, why were they given less and less work?

The work was handed out by Swindon Council staff. So perhaps Mr Mallinson can explain why Council staff were not giving work to the Council’s Homecare team which they were contracted to do. It is difficult to imagine any reason other than an effort to run down the service or the most extraordinary negligence on the part of the management.

Mr Mallinson says they were “too expensive” but when the Homecare team won the contract the Council knew what the price of the work was. So why would it have come as a surprise to him? If it was “too expensive” why did his Council give them the contract in the first place?

Another curious thing is this. If Mr Mallinson was to get his calculator out he would discover that 1,800 hours divided between 52 staff works out at an average of nearly 35 hours each. Given the fact that 49 of them were working part-time, with hours as few as 15 a week how could they cover 1,800 hours? I understand that these staff added up to 32 full-time equivalents. A full-time job was 37 hours. That adds up to 1140 hours. So how could they cover 1800?

In fact if you look at the Quality Care Commission report of 2009 (the one that rated the service excellent) you will see that it says that the department “deploys approximately 100 community support workers organised into 9 teams”. There is no detail given as to how many carried out the home visits but it seems a fair bet that 52 is a lot less than were originally in place. I am told that over that period the Council did not replace the jobs of people who left. However, it is no wonder that the amount of work they did declined with such a drop in staff numbers.

Mr Mallinson writes as if all the work that is done is the same, regardless of who delivers it. It’s my understanding, however, that the Council’s Homecare staff did more complicated work than the private agencies do. They tended to deal with the cases of greater handicap and greater need, work that private companies would not want to do, since it would eat into their profit margins. If this was the case then the cost would inevitably be higher.

One of the positive aspects of the work of the Homecare team was continuity of service. Their staff tended to provide the service to the same patients over a long time. That contrasts with the experience of a friend of mine, using a private agency, who has had 14 different staff visiting her over a couple of months. She has no complaints of the staff who do their best in difficult circumstances. But surely such a situation inevitably means that the quality of service will be less good.

One final thing. The criticism of those opposed to the transfer of the work is not of the people who work for the private companies. Indeed, they are victims of a system which places profit before the needs of the people they serve. They are an exploited workforce. Our criticism is of the companies they work for and the system which exploits them; the subordination of a public service to the profit motive.

Martin Wicks

April 11th 2011

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