Care controversy: 'Lessons must be learned to avoid a repeat'

IT IS important to keep some perspective when assessing Edinburgh council's abject failures in its controversial care tender process earlier this year.

This, after all, was not as bad as the Caleb Ness case. To put it bluntly, no-one died.

But the whole sorry mess did bring unnecessary fear and uncertainty into the lives of hundreds of the city's most vulnerable people.

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It is up to those who were directly affected to decide if the mistakes that were made are forgivable. But what is clear to everyone is that the way the process was handled was unacceptable, and lessons must be learned to avoid any repeat.

The council's own probe into the affair, reported here today, admits that officials not only failed to keep managers and councillors informed of what they were doing, they acted in ways outside their legal powers.

That's pretty damning stuff – and there are many who believe that as this was an in-house investigation even those conclusions have been sanitised, and that they would have been even more censorious if an outside agency had carried it out.

Cynics will certainly find plenty of ammunition in the fact that no council official has been singled out for criticism in the report, nor apparently will anyone be reprimanded or punished. This is too often the case with public sector failure.

Chief executive Tom Aitchison defends this approach, saying 40 staff were involved who were working without the benefit of a commissioning strategy to guide them.

In advocating collective responsibility Mr Aitchison, it has to be said, has himself said "sorry" for the debacle, an apology he has made on behalf of all his team.

Some of that apology will go to the councillors who were left in the dark on what was happening. It should be extended to the city as a whole.

Most of all, the council owes a massive apology to those vulnerable citizens and their carers who were not handled with the consideration they were due.

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With that apology now tabled, and no sign of anyone carrying the can, the important thing is that lessons are learned. The council must never again treat its most fragile clients with such thoughtlessness.

What's more, as we head into a cost-conscious era in which more council services will be contracted out to private firms – in some cases, in deals worth millions of pounds – every tender must be kept squeaky-clean by officials. And councillors must make sure of that.

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