South Lanarkshire trade unions have warned that the future of social care services is at risk as they called on the council to review potential cuts.

Trade unions such as UNISON, GMB and Unite are expressing concerns after a number of potential cuts to social care services were announced.

The cutbacks were discussed at an Integration Joint Board meeting this week (September 19).

Alarm has been raised by the unions following proposals that two older people’s care homes could close and recruitment to home care services could cease, which will lead to a reduction in the capacity of the council’s care at-home service.

As well as this, there is a proposal that older people’s day centres which have not opened after the pandemic will now be permanently closed.

The unions are warning the council that the potential cuts could have a significant impact on vulnerable people in the community and are asking the council to delay final decisions.

In a joint statement by UNISON, GMB and UNITE, the unions have said: “The trade unions have been briefed on proposals to be considered by the South Lanarkshire Integrated Joint Board (IJB) to address immediate budgetary pressures. These proposals, to close McClymont Older People’s Home in Lanark and Dewar House Older People’s Home in Hamilton, to keep closed day centres that have not re-opened after the Covid pandemic and to reduce the numbers and capacity of care at Home Services, are alarming and very disappointing.

“The unions acknowledge the financial pressures on the council and IJB but the impact of these cuts will have a significant impact on vulnerable people in the communities.

“We also acknowledge that the council is stating that there will be no redundancies and that staff will be offered alternative employment. We will work with the council to ensure that is achieved and that suitable alternative employment is offered to every member of staff.

“We believe that the future of social care services is at risk here. The closure or reduction of council services means that there will be an increased reliance on private sector provision. This is not sustainable. The private sector relies on a low-waged workforce in order to make a profit. As a result they struggle with recruitment and retention of staff which impacts on their ability to provide quality of services. There have been numerous reports from the sector that businesses are at risk. To base South Lanarkshire’s future care services on a struggling private sector is dangerous and alarming.

“It is clear that the Scottish Government needs to fund councils better in order to allow them to continue to provide quality care services and to invest in sustainable publicly-provided services for vulnerable people in our communities. There is also a need to recognise that funding for services needs to be paid for and that changes to how the country’s wealth is distributed is long overdue.

“We are calling on the IJB and the council to delay final decisions on these proposals to allow more time to explore alternative solutions to the budget deficit.”

The trade unions have announced that they will be meeting members over the next few days to discuss the implications of the proposals and will be seeking further discussions with the council regarding these proposals.  In response, South Lanarkshire Council’s chief executive, Cleland Sneddon has said that no decisions have been taken and the council is committed to being open.

He said: “We welcome our trade union colleagues’ acknowledgement of the financial pressures being faced by the IJB and by the council, and their support for our calls for increased government funding for our services. Indeed, at the council’s Executive Committee on Wednesday councillors instructed me to write to the Scottish Government to strongly reinforce that point.

“Local government and social services have been underfunded for many years. Add to that the extraordinary impact of major inflationary increases across our costs, and not just South Lanarkshire IJB, but the entire sector, are being forced to consider far-reaching and drastic solutions.

“That is why the IJB is being asked to consider the recovery plan next week. Until then, it is important to remember that no decisions have been taken. Moreover, we are committed to being open throughout the process and will always be in dialogue with all service users, our staff and trade unions and other stakeholders who could be affected by the proposals and any decisions that have to be taken.”

At the Integration Joint Board meeting this week, plans to plug a funding gap of £7 million were discussed, solutions included introducing cuts as well as closing down Dewar House and McClymont House residential care homes.

Members of the board were asked to approve recommendations which would lead to the cutbacks, but following a lengthy discussion around consultation with users of care services, no decision was reached on the issue.

Therefore, at present, plans will not progress until a decision has been confirmed.