A community trust’s bid to run a number of Sure Start centres in Norfolk has been hit by pension complications.
The problems related to the transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) rules could potentially affect other community trusts looking to take on services from local authorities.
Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust was expected to take over the running of the 15 centres from Norfolk County Council on 1 July.
But just days before the contract was due to start, the trust and council agreed the bid had to be withdrawn because of issues around transferring staff from the council pension scheme to the NHS one.
Trust chief executive Michael Scott said the position was “very frustrating”.
In line with TUPE regulations, the tender had specified that the successful bidder provided a “broadly comparable” pension scheme to the local government one - a criteria the NHS scheme does not automatically meet.
The other option would be for staff to transfer to the NHS but remain in the local government pension scheme. This is possible if they are to be employed by a care trust or primary care trust, or if there is a section 75 agreement in place between the two organisations - but none of these situations applied in Norfolk.
Mr Scott said the trust believed the position could have been resolved with more time. “To miss out on an opportunity to expand our services due to this technical issue…is very frustrating,” he said. “But the system at the moment doesn’t make is easy and any barrier to integrated working has to be a real concern.
“The council has been very supportive while we looked to address the pensions issue but we understand their desire to bring about a swift conclusion to this matter and why they couldn’t provide us with more time.”
The trust will still provide services at seven children’s centres. three of which it previously ran and four of which were run by other providers.
The council said six others, where the contracts to run the services have been awarded to other organisations, will transfer from the council as planned on 1 July.
But the 15 which were due to transfer from the council to the trust will continue to be run by the county council until a new provider is appointed.