SERVICES for some of the county’s most vulnerable people could be privatised.

Council chiefs are to consult on the “cost-cutting” move to privatise residential services for people with learning difficulties.

Staff are in shock at the decision by Brighton and Hove City Council, while unions have condemned the plans that would allow private sector providers to bid to run seven residential services.

A council report due to go before the health and wellbeing board next week claims the proposals would allow the service to be run more cost-effectively, but union representatives claim it could only happen by cutting back on staff costs.

Alex Knutsen, from public sector union Unison, said: “The report is exactly right to say our ‘unit costs’ are higher than other authorities and the private sector.

“What it omits to state is that our staff are the best and provide an exceptional service.

“The only reason for privatising these homes is cost-cutting – Unison will launch its biggest ever campaign against these proposals, and in the run-up to next year’s elections take clear note of who is for and against us.”

The council is looking to save £150,000 by the end of the year, as part of its learning disability accommodation service strategy.

Its current in-house service operates 124 units of accommodation, supported living and residential care across 12 services and employs 131 staff looking after 59 people with different levels of need.

The report claims the current service is expensive and the quality compares highly with similar services run in the private and voluntary sector.

Mark Turner, secretary of GMB Sussex branch, added: “Staff are in shock really, that’s the feedback from members. What councillors should do is reject the report and instruct officers and the chief executive to get around with unions and explain why they are doing this and take a balanced decision.”

Conservative councillors echoed these concerns saying each service should be considered on its own merit rather than being tendered as a single item.

Labour leader Warren Morgan said the Green leadership needed to do everything it could to protect vulnerable users from cuts.

But Conservative spokesman for social care Ken Norman, said: “I’m afraid that this is just typical scaremongering by the Unison leadership. Even if the service is outsourced the council retains overall control as it defines the terms of any contract entered into. And if the same level of service can be provided more effectively and efficiently by a voluntary or private sector organisation then it should surely be welcomed.”

A council spokesman added: “Our strategy for providing care and support for people with learning disabilities is to focus our in-house council services on those with more complex needs while supporting people with less complex needs towards living more independently.”