The Comhairle’s new Community Meals scheme that will start this month has faced criticism as being costly and unfair.
The scheme, which is due to be implemented on the 24th of this month in Uist and Barra before being rolled out to Lewis and Harris next year, will see the delivery of a frozen three course meal to households.
Those receiving the frozen meals service will be expected to pay between £2.83 and £4.00 for each three-course meal, plus £15.55 every two weeks for the delivery of the food; a cost that has come under some criticism.
The Community Meals contract will replace the food preparation duties currently undertaken by homecare staff or staff commissioned to provide homecare (such as Tagsa Uibhist).
Responsibility for the purchase of the food remains with the service user.
The council say the framework contract provides an additional option to service users for the purchase of meals.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus B MacNeil said: “I would hope that people are given a choice as to whether they opt-out of the frozen meals scheme if it does not suit their personal requirements and in this case they should be offered an alternative and not feel coerced by the council.”
In response, a council spokesperson said: “There are options - 1) Comhairle community meals 2) purchase meals from other sources 3) family prepared meals 4) Self Directed Support and 5) private arrangements. Service users will also be assessed to determine their needs.”
Andrew Walker, a former Comhairle employee, said: “What is perceived here by many is the privatisation of a presently provided public service, and costs presently met by the Comhairle, being neatly reallocated to service users, this equals a hefty £370 per year for a fortnightly delivery service.
“This is unacceptable.
“The Community Meals Service was discussed and voted on by our councillors many months ago, in the clear knowledge that this would contribute to budget savings of £105,000.
“Are our old people now being asked to pick up this tab? A nifty piece of footwork by our elected representatives.”
“In my view, this service should be introduced on a “free home delivery” basis, certainly in the first instance to get the scheme off the ground.
“If the Comhairle has to meet this cost, which I am advocating, then so be it. They agreed the tender with little forethought to all of its implications.”
The council said: “The suggestion that the Comhairle should subsidise the service by paying for the delivery of the meals would result in the Comhairle going beyond its statutory obligations and would be unfair on those who make alternative arrangements.
“The Comhairle is committed to providing a community meals service in line with best practice to meet the nutritional and dietary needs of service users.
“The Western Isles is not unique in terms of providing a community meals service as there are a range of examples operating nationally.
“However the service does provide service users with the option to purchase a range of nutritious meals from local and national suppliers.”
This news follows the Older People’s Assembly that took place in Hollyrood on Friday, October 31st, which discussed the implementation of a Community Empowerment Bill, and explored areas of concern raised by older people across Scotland.
Following the Hollyrood meeting Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan said: “I have recently been in touch with the Comhairle following questions from a number of people about the charges for the service.
“I have sought information both on how the level of the charge was decided on, and also what consultation there was about the decision to use frozen meals.”