Northamptonshire County Council votes to scrap First for Wellbeing company just two years after setting it up

Northamptonshire County Council voted to scrap First for Wellbeing, a mutual company masterminded by former chief executive Paul Blantern (left) before his departure.
Northamptonshire County Council voted to scrap First for Wellbeing, a mutual company masterminded by former chief executive Paul Blantern (left) before his departure.

The mutual company that looks after a range of health services for Northamptonshire County Council has been brought back in house just two years after its launch.

First for Wellbeing was set up as in April 2016, offering a range of clinical services such as smoking cessation, weight loss help, adult learning and support of isolated people.

Councillor Sylvia Hughes.

Councillor Sylvia Hughes.

The company, a partnership with the University of Northampton and the NHS, was intended to generate its own money on behalf of the council, which it would reinvest in services.

So far, the farming out of previously-council run health services has saved the authority £1.132 million as well as improving the number of people taking part in smoking cessation services.

But with spending controls in place at One Angel Square, the authority now says it has not got enough money to keep investing in First for Wellbeing.

Yesterday’s cabinet meeting saw an agreement to dissolve the company, part of the failed ‘next generation' model masterminded by former chief executive.

Councillor Bob Scott.

Councillor Bob Scott.

Councillor Hughes said the university and NHS had simply not contributed enough to the project.

The current staff recruitment freeze in place at the county had also made difficult to continue running.

"It has been a very successful and has become a valued brand," she said.

"But the partners we have been working with have done very little in terms of offers or investment.

"It undermines the status of the company as a legal entity."

Staff at First for Wellbeing will now be transferred back over to the county council though cabinet members yesterday assured the meeting that there would be no redundancies as a result.

The new in-house service will retain the same branding an offer much of the same services.

But opposition members were quick to point out how they had opposed the council's next-generation plans from the start.

Even the authority's own cabinet papers conceded bringing the services back in-house would offer "lower overhead costs".

The Local Government Association said that such mutual companies did not offer "better value for money" even though other councils across the UK, including Northumberland, have since set up similar schemes.

"I suppose we could say I told you so," said Labour group leader, Councillor Bob Scott who said the university and the NHS should have been contracted to contribute more investment from the start.

"This should have all been written in the documentation."