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Union attacks county plan to take over children and family services

Unite has hit out at county council plans to take over key family and children services from a local NHS partnership.

Somerset County Council put forward plans to bring some services currently run by Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in-house by 2019.

But the union fears that the changes could mean staff pay could be in danger of dropping, while terms and conditions might also be affected.

Unite says the current ratings for children’s services is higher for the NHS trust than for the council, prompting worries that a takeover could lead to a reduction in quality.

While the latest Ofsted review of Somerset showed an improvement in the services, it did suggest that more work was needed for the authority to reach a ‘good’ rating.

Officials at the union say they will be organising a demonstration against the plans at the council’s next cabinet meeting on 12 February.

Dorothy Fogg, Unite lead officer for health in the south west, said: “Ironically, the reputation and rating for the service delivery by the Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is better for the children’s services than those provided by Somerset County Council.”

She went on to explain fears that the council could use the change as a hidden way to cut costs and reduce the rights of certain staff through a process of “salami-slicing” terms and conditions.

“Recruitment and retention for this new proposed service will be poor, if our members lose their NHS terms and conditions,” Fogg warned.

On the release of Ofsted’s inspection report last week, Cllr Frances Nicholson, cabinet member for children and families at Somerset, said: “Our staff have worked tirelessly to change, to be flexible and to reflect the leadership from the top of the organisation. It really is a team effort and I’m delighted on their behalf.

“There is a huge amount of comment and constructive criticism in this report and we will spend time going through it and getting things right. We are committed to improving our children’s services and we have the right staff and the right leaders to do exactly that.”

A spokesperson for Somerset County Council said: “The proposals are all about bringing together support for children and families and making it easier to access, particularly for the vulnerable families who need it most.

“The contract expires at the end of March and by law we have to either put it out to the market or bring it in-house. We looked at what is working elsewhere and firmly believe that integration of public health visiting and the council’s Early Help services is the best away forward, and that this would be best achieved within the council.

“People always have concerns when there is change. That’s understandable but there are no plans to erode any terms and conditions for Health Visiting staff if they transfer to the local authority. We are disappointed that Unite is opposing the integration of Health and Care services in the public sector, which have already taken place in other areas.”

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