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UPDATED: Met denies 'starving' its social care trust of cash

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Sandwell MBC has denied claims it is “starving” its own adult social care trust of funding and causing planned reductions in staff pay following an eight-year wage freeze.

The Unite union said the Sandwell Community Caring Trust (SCCT), which was established by the council as a charity in 1997, is set to reduce enhanced payments to staff for working bank holidays and weekends due to funding pressures.

The union claimed there is also growing anger that SCCT staff are paid an average of £53.39 for looking after people with dementia and learning difficulties while some private providers commissioned by the council are paid up to £146.10.

Sandwell said it is honouring its contracts with the trust and added it has no control over the trust’s employment practices.

Unite has accused Sandwell’s director of adult social care David Stevens of refusing to meet with the union’s regional officer Brian Rickers to discuss the matter following allegations he sent an “overly aggressive” letter to Mr Stevens.

This is strongly denied by the council which said an offer earlier this month to open talks was ignored by the union.

Mr Rickers insisted Sandwell is “starving a first-class provider”.

He said: “While it is understood that councils have severe funding issues as a result of the government’s austerity measures, Sandwell has significant funding reserves some of which should be spent on preserving the pay of workers who care for the borough’s sick and elderly on a daily basis.”

Sandwell’s unallocated reserves totalled £11.9m at the end of the last financial year, which represents 4.73% of net operating budget.

Ann Shackleton (Lab), Sandwell’s cabinet member for adult social care, said the council was in talks with SCCT about its financial difficulties.

She added: “The council cannot be drawn into a dispute between the SCCT and their employees and of course we have no control over the employment practices of local businesses.

“The council has already increased its funding to SCCT by over £500,000 since the introduction of the government’s new living wage in April 2016 to deliver the same service. We have already planned further increases of over £100,000 this year.

“The council is paying SCCT against contracts that they won in competitive tenders and we have made no reductions in our £7.7m payments to the trust. The provider also receives over £1m from the council in housing benefit claims.”

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