A decision on staffing redeployment at the Hillcrest children’s home will be taken in around three months’ time, the Comhairle confirmed this afternoon (Thursday February 9), adding that there are no anticipated job losses.

Councillors agreed on Tuesday to press ahead with plans to downgrade the facility, in order to save £350,000.

Said a report: "Demand for residential places both locally and off Island have reduced significantly. Action for Children provides five bed spaces (four residential and one respite) in Hillcrest and in the current financial year has had approximately 50% occupancy. More recently, it has operated at a 25% occupancy and on this basis it is not viable to maintain a facility with only a 25% occupancy and no current agreement for workforce redeployment."

The Comhairle plans to build a new children’s care home facility at a cost of around £2million. 

In a statement issued this afternoon, the Comhairle said a new a partnership had been formed between Action for Children, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CNES), Harmeny School (a residential special school in Edinburgh working with young children who have complex social, emotional and behavioural needs) and Western Isles Foyer, to 'jointly redesign and deliver services for children, young people and their families’.

The statement reads: “The aim is to maximise the available resources and ensure the ability to continue providing safe and effective services. This is consistent with the report which was presented to and discussed at the Comhairle’s Policy and Resources Committee this week.

“The requirement for Looked After placements at Hillcrest is reducing at the same time as the need for Short Breaks is increasing. The Comhairle is planning to build a purpose built resource which will provide both for Short Breaks, emergency respite and Looked After & Accommodated Children.

“This accommodation is not yet built, so adaptations will be made at Hillcrest to increase our capacity to provide Short Breaks, in the interim. The timescale for the new build is somewhere between 12-18 months.

“We are in discussion about the future use of the Hillcrest resource with a view to its use as resource to support the partnership’s service delivery.”

Service Managers from both Action for Children and CnES are working with other colleagues to assess the type and level of staffing needed to deliver services jointly. 

“This is a new area and will initially involve staff ‘shadowing’ each other to learn each other’s working practices, standards, procedures and policies,” the statement continued.

“At the end of this piece of work (expected to take about 3 months), the partnership will then agree how best to use the staff and other resources to take forward redesigned services. 

“The aim of the partnership is to retain and develop workforce skills and, to that end, there are no anticipated job losses. However it is recognised that some people may not wish to change the way in which they currently work. This is an area that respective HR teams will soon begin to address, to ensure that staff have the opportunity to clarify what the changes will mean for them.”

Following Tuesday’s meeting, SNP councillor Gordon Murray expressed his disappointment that his motion to defer a decision until councillors had more satisfactory information regarding the changes, had been defeated by 22 votes to five. 

He said: “At the last budget, the decision was made that the cut would only be realised when members were satisfied with the transitional arrangements.

“No model has been agreed, no information is available on the future accommodation, where, when?

“So, we, the SNP group cannot be satisfied and are therefore unable, with the information presented, to agree the cut to the service."

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said she had been contacted by constituents who were opposed to to the downgrading of Hillcrest. 

She said she had received reassurance from Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell that all staff would be retained.

Mrs Grant commented:  “I am grateful to receive this assurance from the leader and I hope this will bring relief to both worried parents and staff at the facility."