AN outsourced provider of services for people with learning disabilities has made 10 people redundant and allowed others to take early retirement – at a cost of £475,000.

Somerset County Councillors have raised concerns about redundancies from the provider - Discovery - and how this might impact on the council’s wider financial situation.

Learning disability services in Somerset (known as LDS) were outsourced by the county council in April 2017 to Discovery, a social enterprise vehicle created by private company, Dimensions.

The move came amid warnings in May this year from trade union Unison, that up to 100 jobs could be lost at Discovery as part of a drive towards more personalised care.

Now, the council has confirmed that 10 people have been made redundant from Discovery to date, at a cost of £221,000.

Councillors first raised concerns about Discovery redundancies at a meeting of the council’s audit committee on July 26, where an official audit into the authority’s finances was discussed.

Councillor Mike Rigby, who was not present at the meeting for family reasons, submitted a number of questions regarding the LDS, which were read out on his behalf by Councillor Hugh Davies.

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He queried the amount of money which would be spent on redundancies from Discovery, as well as pensions being drawn down from early retirements.

He said: “How much has been spent to date by this council on funding redundancies in the LDS in Discovery, and what pension strain payments have been made towards early retirements?

“For the remainder of 2018/19, are there any further redundancy and pension strain costs to be met within Discovery, and if so, how much in total?”

The council has now confirmed that £221,000 has been spent on 10 staff redundancies.

A further £254,000 being drawn down from pensions to cover early retirements from the LDS brings a total bill to date of £475,000.

Neither the council nor Discovery has confirmed how many other redundancies, if any, were expected for the rest of the financial year.

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Mr Davies asked whether a new care model would be able to deliver savings – and what the consequences would be if it did not.

He said: “One delivery model for the service has failed, and the new model requires significantly cutting time with learning disabilities clients, which could lead to client dissatisfaction, rising complaints, mental and physical deterioration and even harm.

“What happens to this council’s finances if the new model savings prove equally unattainable in the real world?

"Will the council then risk having to issue a Section 114 notice, like Northamptonshire County Council, at the end of this financial year?”

A Section 114 notice is issued by council officers when a projected overspend cannot be covered by existing reserves.

Publishing such a notice effectively freezes all council spending until councillors agree on corrective action, and may lead to central government appointing commissioners to directly intervene in the council’s operations.

Northamptonshire County Council issued a Section 114 notice in February, and published a second such notice on July 24, two days before Somerset’s audit committee met in Taunton.

Peter Lewis, the council’s interim director of finance, said Somerset was “not in that position” and that achieving financial stability was “the highest priority”.

He added issuing such a notice would be “a difficult distraction” and would not result in “the government coming down with a big bag of cash”.

Council chief executive Pat Flaherty added that “a full, open tender exercise was undertaken” ahead of the contract being given to Discovery, and that “effective contract management” was in place to ensure that funds were being properly spent.

Discovery managing director, Luke Joy-Smith, said in May that “a number of existing permissions would no longer be required” in light of organisational changes at the provider.

He added that these changes would “enable us to bring decision making closer to the people we support and empower our support workers to provide excellent support for the future”.

Discovery was approached but declined to make any further comment.