Warwickshire County Council (WCC) recently decided to open out the Meals on Wheels service to tender at the end of the contract to the WRVS, which expired at the end of April. The winners of that process were ‘County Enterprise Foods’ (CEF). The criteria were wide, but the main aspect was, of course, cost. I’ve looked too see what the savings are, but it’s difficult to know. The contract is worth a shade over £1M a year for the next three years, and an option for a fourth.
The result: Hungry Pensioners Left Without Food (Rugby Advertiser)
So who are County Enterprise Foods? Well, they grew out of Nottinghamshire County Council, and are still owned by it. They supply canteen services to Notts, and the City Council in Nottingham, as well as to Rotherham. Last year they merged with the Notts Meals on Wheels service, and since then have looked to gain contracts elsewhere. Warwickshire was one of the first outside Nottinghamshire to award a Meals on Wheels contract to CEF. Apparently it was expected that up to two thirds of the WRVS staff would transfer to CEF, although according to this report in the Nuneaton News, not everyone involved with the WRVS knew about thet changes, so I wonder whether that did actually happen. Of course, volunteers are not staff, but perhaps WCC and CEF overlooked the fact that WRVS were providing services using volunteers. Another Nuneaton News report suggests that the impact is wider, as a social club that uses the WRVS facilities may well be unable to function.
CEF are described in the NN reports as being based in Warwick, and being ‘not for profit’. Well, interestingly, Nottingham County Council are expecting that the contract will produce a ‘surplus’ of £100,000 a year (pdf). They will have an operation in Warwick, but it seems that this isn’t much use if food is not getting out and people can’t contact them to find out what’s going on.
The WRVS provided their services six days a week, and CEF were offering a full seven-day-a-week supply. Of course, it seems that for some people, it’s been over seven days since they had anything from CEF under the new contract.
One thing to note is that the new contract came about under a new Tory administration. Clearly they were looking to cut their bills, and it seems that they have not taken the care to ensure that frontline services are not affected. The move from a voluntary organisation to a company owned by another Tory-controlled council also looks like a kick in the teeth to the ‘Big Society’ idea.
Is this the future under a new Conservative-led government?