Crisis council pays advisers £1,000 a day

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Gloucestershire social services is to spend £1,000 a day on computer consultants, despite a financial crisis that has forced major cuts in community care. Last September, the department announced that it was to withdraw a range of community servic es because it could not afford to pay for them.

A secret document leaked to the trade magazine Computer Weekly has disclosed that Glou-cestershire has scrapped a community care computer system for which it paid at least £250,000, and is to replace it with another at a cost of more than £200,000. The new scheme involves paying £1,000 per day to consultants.

Next month, two disabled pensioners are to take Gloucestershire County Council to court in an attempt to overturn its decision to stop provision of home helps. In December, Wesley Mafood, 75, and Michael Barry, 79, were given leave to seek an urgent judicial review.

Gloucestershire said that it was forced to withdraw community care services from the elderly and disabled because of inadequate government funding. The council, with a budget deficit of £1m, said it was only able to provide emergency care. The decision provoked local protests. More than 100 pensioners demonstrated outside County Hall.

The leaked documents reveal that, despite these cuts, the council has abandoned a £259,613 computer system called Oscar, which was designed to help it run community care. The computer went live in April 1993.

A statement issued by the council said that the decision to scrap it was taken because of ``operational problems''. It is understood that people using the system found it could take 30 minutes to enter details of community care recipients.

The system was also intended to provide the kind of financial management data that would have helped social services predict its current budget deficit.

A spokeswoman for the council said that the cost of the new system, around £200,000, would be met "within existing budgets". The confidential documents show that the council makes provision for computer consultants to help analyse the exact requirements at a cost of £1,000 per day.

The spokeswoman added that these costs were a "worst-case scenario. Tenders are now being invited and the actual consultancy cost could prove lower than the estimated figures."