The Scottish Government has just announced plans to exempt all care and support arrangements from the requirement to advertise and competition. This will come in an amendment to a new bill and will not be law for some time yet, probably later in 2014 but public authorities should see this proposal as the direction of travel and abandon plans to tender care services that that they are currently considering.
Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee of the Scottish Parliament as part of its scrutiny of the Procurement Reform Bill at Stage 1 on the 11th of December:
“Having listened to the evidence, it is our intention to bring forward an amendment to the Bill at Stage 2 which will exempt health and social care contracts from the provisions in the Bill which relate to advertising and competition, and I hope that will go some way to addressing the concerns that have been raised…where an authority does choose to hold a competition for these kinds of services, it is important that some provisions in the Bill will still apply.” This will particularly exempt health and social care from the “mandating of that competition”
In the committee MSPs spoke about the “merry-go-round” of care services that puts a lot of pressure on the third sector. They were worried that “ tendering for care services was being driven by cost rather than quality, which is driving down pay and conditions for workers and causing a high staff turnover rate”
Many of us share these worries and there has been much campaigning and lobbying over the last 5 years by Learning Disability Alliance Scotland, our friends at CCPS and others. We fought a big campaign against tendering in Edinburgh and supported challenges to care tendering in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. It’s really good news that in the future that authorities will have more discretion as to whether or not they put contracts out to tender (or, more likely, re-tender); and less discretion about how they conduct tenders, should they choose to use competition.
Now no one really needs to have to worry about their services being tendered out from under them. All local councillors need to know this and this will be especially so for those councillors in Edinburgh who are thinking about plans to tender supported employment services in 2014. Time to think again!