An 18-month-long planned sale of council-run dementia care homes in Kirklees has collapsed after a bidder pulled out.
Castle Grange in Newsome and Claremont House in Heckmondwike had undergone building work in advance of the proposed sale to Wakefield-based Strong Life Care.
Union chiefs representing staff at the two homes said the collapse of the deal only adds to unanswered questions about the viability of the sell-off.
The private sector deal, announced early last year, was at the heart of proposals by Kirklees Council to offload care provision in the borough.
The authority began consultation on the potential privatisation of four of its homes – the others were Moorlands Grange in Netherton and Ings Grove in Mirfield – in January last year.
Moorlands Grange and Ings Grove both offer intermediate care. Castle Grange and Claremont House provide dementia care.
A spokeswoman for Kirklees Council, which operates six residential/respite homes for adults and five for children, confirmed that the sale to Strong Life Care “is not now going ahead.”
She added that a programme of “essential building works” is still being undertaken.
She added: “Castle Grange and Claremont had been identified for sale and a change of registration to meet the demand for nursing care.
“There are no changes to other provision and there have been no other council-run homes sold within the last five years.”
Hundreds of workers are potentially affected by the planned sale of the care homes.
Andrew Aldwinkle, regional organiser for the GMB trades union, said the buildings had been put out to tender while a pay deal was ongoing and that this had not been factored in to negotiations.
He described the council’s decision to privatise as “a backward step.”
“The council has never been prepared to tell us who the potential buyer was, and they have never told us what they planned to do with the buildings and the grounds,” he said.
“Our concern was that they were giving the assets away. We asked whether they were going to be kept in local authority control. We never received a single answer.
“The first thing any new employer coming in will do is slash terms and conditions. Staff have been kept in the dark. There have been very few meetings with them.”
Clr Kath Pinnock, who was council leader when the homes were commissioned in the mid-2000s, said Castle Grange and Claremont were specially-designed for dementia sufferers.
She said the council’s decision to sell made her “very, very sad.”
She added: “If these go into the private sector that means there is no public sector provision. You just worry that people will be stuck with having to opt for private sector care which may or may not meet their needs.
“I have always been in favour of a mixture of public and private sector provision.
“If they have been trying for 18 months to sell and have failed then that tells you something about the financial difficulties in social care. There’s not enough money in the system for a private company to take them on.”
Newsome councillor Andrew Cooper said councils “had a legal duty” to provide adult social care but that they were undermined by government cuts made at a national level.
He said: “We have a legal duty but not the funding needed to deliver that. It’s criminal that councils are placed in this position. And it’s criminal that people that need this service are put in that position as well.
“If the incentive is there from national government to make it worthwhile in economic terms then councils would be operating in the adult social care sector.
“But the government holds all the cards and they are not making that possible.”
Harpreet Singh Banwait of Strong Life Care, based at Newmillerdam, Wakefield, said: “We are aware of the disposal and the process but we are not acquiring or planning to buy these two care homes.”
Richard Parry, Strategic Director Adults and Health, said: “The council is unable to comment on the reason Strong Life Care chose to withdraw as it would be up to them to clarify their reasons.
“We remain committed to providing our residents with the best possible care and the council will make a decision on a way forward later this summer. In the meantime, we are continuing to invest in our care homes as required.”