A lifeline service helping elderly and vulnerable East Devon residents in emergencies will be partially outsourced to a private company for four months.
The move by district council chiefs over Home Safeguard has been prompted by staff shortages and could save the authority £4,000, writes Local Democracy Reporter Joe Ives.
Users are given a pendant with a button for them to press in an emergency. An operator then provides over-the-phone help and, if necessary, calls emergency services.
Home Safeguard operates between 10.15pm and 7.15am and receives an average of 21 calls a night.
But it has lost three team members recently, and remaining staff have become overstretched.
Now East Devon District Council (EDDC) is outsourcing four nights a week to Night Owl, with its in-house team covering the other three.
The arrangement will run for four months.
Night Owl staff are based at offices in Chichester, Exeter and Ashburton.
The move attracted some criticism from members when it was discussed by the council’s cabinet on Wednesday, September 8.
Exmouth Halsdon representative Councillor Paul Millar said: “So often this kind of policy can come at the expense of quality, working conditions and democratic accountability and, in the end, costs in the long-term if our residents suffer from poor communication between the company and the council.”
He said the current salary offered by the council, under £17,500 per year pro-rata, needed to be increased if it is to address its recruitment problems.
Cllr Millar added: “The core argument about saving money is not one I subscribe to. The savings are negligible.
“I don’t think it should be about money at all. It should be about quality of service.”
Honiton St Michael’s representative Cllr Jake Bonetta added: “I cannot support any move to take our council services out-of-house.
“Investing in our own services with better pay and better conditions is so much more valuable than potentially outsourcing permanently.”
EDDC leader Cllr Paul Arnott said he sympathised with the criticisms and that he disliked the idea of outsourcing, but it was a matter of necessity.
He argued that, without the emergency measures, the service could not be maintained.
“I know the answers don’t please everybody or perhaps entirely anybody, but we will revisit this soon. That’s an absolute commitment,” said Cllr Arnott.
The issue will be discussed again by cabinet when the contract ends in February 2022.