Mike Bibby, Assistant Director (AD), Personalisation, Commissioning & Partnerships, SBC, outlined a report providing details on the review of employment support for disabled people, including services currently provided by the Council at Speedwell Enterprises. The report summarised the options considered for future provision of the service and made recommendations on the proposed future model for service delivery which would be considered by Cabinet at its meeting on 17th October, 2011.
The Panel was advised that over the last four years the Council had implemented an extensive change programme in Adult Social Care to improve outcomes for service users and improve the range of services provided to local people. It was noted that a number of new services had been introduced or redesigned including the reprovision of residential care services for older people, and the establishment of the re-ablement service. The new initiatives had proven successful in improving outcomes for service users and the programme would continue in order to meet changing needs and increasing levels of demand. It was essential that any changes in services should deliver efficiencies and the most effective use of resources whilst also delivering improved outcomes for local people within reduced resources.
The AD advised that a review of employment support for people with disabilities had been undertaken during 2011. The Panel noted the objectives and outcomes to be achieved through any proposed changes and these included increasing the number of disabled people eligible for Adult Social Care services benefitting from support to access employment, work experience, volunteering, education and skills development. It was also important to increase access to mainstream employment for disabled people whilst delivering improved services within reduced costs. A project group had been established to undertake the review. There had been regular communication and consultation with staff members, workshop operative service users and families.
The AD advised that the project group had examined a number of possible options for the future provision of employment support services for disabled people and considered a range of service options. The current provision for employment support for people with disabilities was provided by the Council through Speedwell Enterprise, and was located on the Wexham Nursery site. It was noted that the nursery had closed in August 2011. The Panel was advised that support to 30 service users with learning disabilities who were eligible for adult social care services was provided through the Opportunities Group based on the Speedwell site. The Work Choice Group had been provided under a contract with Shaw Trust from September, 2010.
The AD discussed the number of individuals employed within the programmes and the details of council staff currently employed to manage the services and provide support to the disabled staff. It was highlighted that the gross budget for Speedwell Enterprise was £550K and the net budget was £341k.
The Panel was advised that of the two service elements currently provided, the Work Opportunities scheme was better placed and designed to promote access to employment support for Adult Social Care eligible services users. During 2010/11 Adult Social Care support was provided to a total of 1,257 disabled people of working age. It was felt that many of these users could benefit from access to services to support them into employment, work experience and other areas but the current service model only made provision for a limited number of places and supported a small proportion of eligible service users. It was suggested that through refocusing employment support service provision there would be opportunities to increase the number of disabled people eligible for adult social care services who could benefit from the service. The AD discussed a number of other disadvantages relating to the current Work Choice and Work Opportunities models. In terms of value for money and unit costs an analysis had indicated that the latter scheme was more cost effective and a redesigned service based on this scheme could result in 50% more people benefitting from the service at a reduced cost.
The Panel noted that in June, 2011 the Government published a report entitled “Getting in, staying in and getting on – disability employment support fit for the future”. Consultation on the report would close on 17th October, 2011 and key recommendations included the view that money should be used to support individuals to achieve their employment aspirations in the widest range of jobs and careers, rather than to fund disability specific work places or facilities. Further, the review had recommended that when existing Work Choice contracts expired, specific guarantees of funding to supported business places should cease. It was highlighted that in recent years there had been a general move away from the provision of supported employment in workshop settings and at national level there was a clear long term policy aspiration to provide individually tailored support for disabled people, and to enable them to access employment in mainstream settings. Clearly the current provision at Speedwell was a disability specific factory model and the national review recommendations indicated a move away from this sort of provision.
The Panel was advised that a number of options had been considered during the review and the AD advised that Option 5 – the
Remodelling of employment services, building on the benefits of the Work Opportunities service was the preferred option. This service could be provided directly by the Council or tendered out to another provider and the elements and benefits of this new service model were noted. If Cabinet approved the new service model at its meeting in October, 2011, the Council would withdraw from the Work Choice contract and close the workshop as part of the future option model. A formal 30 day consultation with factory staff and trade union representatives would follow until the end of November, 2011. The AD discussed measures which would be put in place to support staff at risk and secure an alternative venue from which to provide the current Work Opportunities service. It was anticipated that the workshop would close by the end of March, 2012 and there would be a tender for the new enhanced Work Opportunities model in April, 2012. The new service would be implemented in October, 2012.
During his presentation the AD acknowledged that the workshop operatives would prefer to keep the current service and this was respected but there was a clear need to change the current facilities available. The Panel was requested to note and consider the review findings and future options and comment on the recommendations that would be submitted to Cabinet on 17th October.
A number of Speedwell Enterprise operatives and their colleagues attended the meeting and made a presentation. The Panel was advised that the Speedwell workshop was able to provide 30 disabled people with 21 hours of paid employment with SBC per week and there was capacity to employ more people. It was highlighted that half of the individuals were on fixed term contracts and great emphasis was placed on these individuals using the workshop as a stepping stone back into open employment or as support in helping them to find work for the first time. A variety of other groups also benefitted fro the services on offer, for example, students from East Berkshire College gaining valuable work experience and ex-employees returned as volunteers whilst they were looking for employment. It was explained that a diverse group of 20 companies had been loyal to Speedwell for many years and wished to put something back into the community. These included the Royal Mail and N&P. Operatives would shortly undertake the assembly and distribution of all the collection buckets for Children in Need for the Royal Mail and this contract was a repeat of the successful completion of the same contract in the previous year. The Panel was advised that the income received from the contract work was approximately £70k per annum.
All employees of Speedwell had development plans and everyone received appropriate training that would help them to find work of their choice and improve their CVs. The Panel was also advised that access was available to look for work through the Internet and local papers and 5 support staff organised training and development and searched for appropriate work. It was highlighted that recent figures showed that 25% of SBC employees with a disclosed disability were based at Speedwell and in a recent options assessment exercise the workforce had confirmed that they would not like to see any changes to the services they received. A grade 2 good result had been received in the last Ofsted inspection.
The Panel was advised that Speedwell Enterprises was the ‘Heart of Slough’ and Members were invited to visit the site on 10th October so that they could view the good work that was being done. The presentation included a number of statements from employees who worked at Speedwell expressing how they valued the service and how their lives would change if the service disappeared.
Four employees addressed the Panel and explained how they personally benefitted from attending Speedwell and explained how important this was to disabled individuals. It was argued that the unit operated in an efficient way and it would be grossly unfair if those in the most vulnerable part of society were penalised due to Council budget cuts. It was suggested that a better business model could have been developed and a contract had been offered at £150k. It was questioned why SBC had not been interested in this contract and very little time had been spent to consider options which would be far less drastic. It was noted that the Council had to consider the financial aspects but it was felt that it had not given enough thought to the human aspect of their decisions.
Mrs Eleanor Cryer MBE, Chief Executive, Slough Mencap, addressed the Panel and argued that in the current economic situation employers were unable to take on disabled individuals and it was unrealistic to say that alternative jobs would be found for Speedwell employees. She questioned whether there was a hidden agenda in the Council’s proposals and asked whether the value of the site was worth more than the Speedwell employees.
In the ensuing debate Members raised a number of questions about the report and its conclusions.
A Member asked whether there would be any opportunity for people to use facilities at Aspire and the AD confirmed that there had been no engagement in this area but colleagues were working on the development of enterprise initiatives. One of the operatives in attendance advised that a statement had been placed on SEGRO’s website and a letter had been forwarded to 20 companies and only one response had been received with regard to any possible employment; this was clearly very worrying and the question was asked how would any of these companies be able to take on members of staff from April next year?
In response to a question regarding the availability of work within the Council, the AD advised that in the first instance the possibility of redeployment options would be looked at to assess whether there were any vacancies.
The AD did not accept the suggestion that the proposals were purely finance driven and argued if this were the case then option 3 would have been the preferred option, i.e. to cease all provision of employment support for disabled people. A member requested further information on the other 75% of SBC employees with a disability and it was agreed that this would be forwarded to the member concerned. The AD accepted that with hindsight it may have been possible some years earlier to put more effort into obtaining more contracts to make Speedwell operatives more self sufficient. The Panel was advised that someone had been brought in to do marketing into this area but no contracts had been found.
There was some concern from Panel members that it would be difficult for the employees to find further employment and there would be resulting costs to the Council. The AD accepted that there would be challenges in this area but work would be done to alleviate this situation. Again it was emphasised that a revised service would allow the Council to enable more clients to access services.
A Member asked what would happen if employees lost their income and was advised that benefits would be available and there would be tailored personal advice provided. Job Centre plus had confirmed that they would provide this.
A Member questioned what would happen to the 20 contracts which were currently in force with companies. The AD advised that no formal consultation had been carried out with companies and there would need to be discussions in this area. He also advised that he was not aware of any future plans for the site. A Member stated that he recalled Option 2 was favoured at an earlier meeting and questioned why the option had been changed. The AD advised that he did not recall this was ever the case.
A Member questioned whether the decision could be deferred for one year so that work could be undertaken with employers but the AD questioned the time it would take to bring in the required levels of business. He confirmed that colleagues would continue to work with employers to find employment for individuals. A Member commented that at Council less than one year ago there had been a motion to support ex members of the Armed Forces and it was felt that the Council should have equal responsibility for disabled members of society. He suggested that the Speedwell could be set up as a social enterprise and he asked whether external support could be attracted. In response to a question regarding the use of the building when vacated, the AD advised that he was not in a position to answer this. A member commented that the Council had a moral duty to support the people of Speedwell otherwise it would be failing people in the community who needed help. It was important in her opinion to get people off benefit, not put people onto benefit. In her opinion it came down to money which was not acceptable when it came to a situation like this.
The Commissioner for Community and Wellbeing, addressed the Panel and advised that it was important to provide the best service for as many people as possible. He did not feel that the current position was the most suitable in that it was too limited and provided 15 spaces for 1200 people in the Slough area. He reminded the Panel that the Government was against the factory model and that the service was 30 years old and out of date.
It was suggested that the Panel’s recommendations be deferred until Members had an opportunity to visit the Speedwell Enterprise site on the open day on 10th October. Following discussion it was :
Resolved - That the Panel defer its recommendations to Cabinet until a site visit has been convened to visit Speedwell Enterprises on 10th October, 2011.