Borders council facing calls for inquiry into failure of its care company

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson outside Deanfield in Hawick.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson outside Deanfield in Hawick.

Calls are being made for an independent inquiry into the failure of SB Cares, the arm’s-length care company launched by Scottish Borders Council four years ago but now about to be scrapped.

SB Cares, a limited liability partnership (LLP) launched by the council in April 2015, has been beset by problems including four managerial suspensions and several critical care inspections and now faces being wound up and having its services taken back in-house. 

A report due to go before councillors this Thursday, September 26, asks elected members to approve plans to wrap up SB Cares and SB Support. 

Ahead of that meeting, Hawick and Hermitage councillor David Paterson has called into question the reasons for the creation of the care company on officers’ advice and has issued a plea for an investigation into its troubled history.

He said: “We were told in 2014, by consultants commissioned by officers, that the continued in-house provision of adult care services in the Borders was not viable in the medium to long term. 

“We were told by consultants that the provision of care by the then workforce of 850 carers, with an annual budget of £17m, would be likely to lead to an ongoing rationalisation and possible reductions of services for the most vulnerable people in our society faced with this massive uncertainty if we did not opt for the LLP.

“What has now miraculously brought about this change of heart.

“Have people that were put in charge not been up to the job?

“We recently had a report from officers about things not being quite right in one care home in our ownership, and I wonder if there have been more failings that we have not been told about.

“We now have the public that we represent calling this whole scenario a complete and massive cock-up from start to finish, and they are seriously questioning the competence of the advice that we were given in 2014 when the same officers are now telling us that we now have to take it in-house.”

Earlier this month, the council called in government healthcare watchdogs to Deanfield Care Home in Hawick after finding that the quality of care there had fallen below an acceptable standard, prompting a near-£3m emergency investment package to be drawn up.

Mr Paterson added: “At the very least, there must be an independent investigation into this.

“What went wrong and when did it go wrong?

“Is there anything that could have been done earlier to save the massive losses?

“Was there a failure of officers when in charge of this organisation? 

“We have to find out where the failures were and if more could and should have been done earlier.

“We are dealing with the most vulnerable people in our society, and all this uncertainty will be having a very serious impact on these people and their quality of life. 

“I was told in 2014 that doing nothing wasn’t really an option and we were advised that it was in everyone’s interests to move to the LLP for all the things that they were able to do, compared to restrictions placed on the service operating within the council.

“We were given assurances that the new company would be able to seek external work. How much external work did they actually get and was it in line with what was expected?

“I am deeply troubled here when some of the people that advised us in 2014 that the LLP was the greatest thing since sliced bread are now advising us that we should just ignore that advice, and take it in house.”

The consultancy firm that advised the council in 2014 to set up SB Cares was West Midlands-based Care and Health Solutions, telling members: “Financial and demographic pressures and top down government policy mean that to continue in-house provision is not viable in the medium to longer term.

“Eventually, the need to make savings will result in a stripped-down service where quality is compromised and service user needs are unmet.”