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'Lessons learnt' from closure of Suffolk County Council's care company Sensing Change

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Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (12716763)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (12716763)

Lessons have been learnt over a council owned company which failed to be self-sustaining, council bosses have said after agreeing its closure.

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet agreed on Tuesday to wind up Sensing Change, a wholly-owned company delivering care for deaf and blind people in the county.

Council chiefs said that those receiving care from the firm would not see a change in provision as it moved back in house. Staff meanwhile were seconded to Sensing Change, meaning they would just move back under the county council’s umbrella. The company, which formed in 2011, will be dissolved by Companies House by October.

Beccy Hopfensperger, Conservative cabinet member for adult care, said: “I would like to be really clear that this proposal is not about cutting the service, and there will be no impact on staff and those already receiving support. This support will not change. This will not impact on Suffolk residents and people will still receive the service to meet their needs.”

Mrs Hopfensperger said it had become “increasingly clear” that the company could not be financially self-sustaining without the council’s annual £984,000 subsidy, and opportunities for growth had not emerged.

“It’s a very small market and really the only people they could work with are another local authority company,” she said.

“Most local authorities have the same remit to grow their business as we would, so it’s a very tight, competitive market in the local authorities so they really had nowhere to end up.

“We have learnt lessons but we really think it’s best for the staff and service users that we bring it back in house, and we have learnt from that exercise.”

Around 32 members of staff are employed there, who will be brought back in house. The report said around 270 people used the service at any one time, but there were 114,000 people in Suffolk who were deaf or hard of hearing and a further 3,000 sight impaired who could access the service.

Penny Otton, Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group leader said: “I was surprised to learn there were no councillors on the board who would have been able to perhaps keep an eye on the progression.”

The council’s Labour group raised concerns over whether the level of specialism would remain to provide an effective service.