The Hepburn Shire Council has revealed an in-principle decision to withdraw from delivering aged and disability services.
The announcement follows council's controversial decision of earlier this week to not proceed with the Hepburn Hub at The Rex project.
Despite the magnitude of the development, Hepburn Shire Council CEO Bradley Thomas is convinced the move is the right one.
"It is a big decision for council, but (it is) ending a service for the benefit of the people provided that service," Mr Thomas said.
"There's been too much uncertainty in this sector for (over) 18 months for clients and staff. Making this decision will reduce the uncertainty."
Mayor Tim Drylie insists much consideration was given to the matter.
"Change is a really difficult thing," Cr Drylie said.
"The interests of clients, families, carers, and staff were central to this investigation to cease this service delivery."
Mr Thomas is quick to point out the change is not unique.
"Aged and disability services have been undergoing reform across Australia," Mr Thomas said.
"This is not a decision just being made by Hepburn."
The transition has been coming for a period of time, according to Mr Thomas.
"It's become abundantly clear in the last 18 months to three years with the significant reforms going on across the sector that councils, particularly small councils, are no longer the best provider to provide this service," Mr Thomas said.
"The Commonwealth Government is responsible for aged care services and they determine who provides those services."
Mr Thomas is aware of the increasing demands associated with aged and disability care, such as ensuring professional development for workers. Staffing has also been troublesome.
"It's becoming increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff," Mr Thomas said.
"There's a number of these services we haven't been able to deliver."
Mr Thomas feels many advantages will stem from the shift to federal control.
"Council will be able to change its focus and invest in its positive ageing strategy," he said.
"This community has a growing ageing community and we believe investing in positive ageing programs will have a greater benefit to all community members, particularly our growing elderly community."
Cr Drylie acknowledges reform is needed given current and potential problems with provision of services.
"There are some issues around navigation for clients; sometimes, there are limited services; there can be variable quality," Cr Drylie said.
"There's real concern that, if we were to let the system go as it is, the model will become unaffordable for people.
"In the coming years to 2050, we're expecting a 350 per cent increase in demand. That's partly why this national approach has been developed."
While Mr Thomas insists finances were not the main driver behind the move, he admits economic pressures will be eased.
"Currently, we deliver 11,000 hours of services (per year) to people," Mr Thomas said.
"It's a total cost to council currently of about $580,000. That's after the government grant funding of around $2 million. It's fair to say council's contribution has significantly increased each year because the cost of delivering the service continues to increase each year.
"In the first year (of transition), there will obviously be a number of costs, redundancies to staff and that side of things. In the second year of the transition, we're expecting significant reduction of that cost. We're expecting somewhere in the net savings of $300,000 to $350,000 ongoing from this decision."
Even though the Commonwealth Government will be responsible for the selection and appointment of any new provider of services, council will lead an expression of interest process to identify and recommend a successor.
"It is hoped we can do the EOI process relatively quickly and at the February or March meeting of council bring back a decision for council," Mr Thomas said.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Mr Thomas argues introducing the change now will prevent a difficult situation down the track.
"This is a decision that, in a couple of years' time, will be taken out of council's hands anyway," he said.
"Council, by being proactive, is having some input."
With council having been a long-term provider of aged and disability services, Mr Thomas suggests its 320 clients should not worry.
"In terms of what changes today, nothing changes," he said.
"We strongly believe another provider will continue to provide care in accordance with all government regulations."
Cr Drylie also asserts clients should not fret.
"Although there is a discontinuation of a service, there won't be a disruption to service," Cr Drylie said.
"The idea is to actually improve the service.
"We're very mindful to manage that change appropriately and sensitively within the community."
There are 18 staff members who will be affected by the decision.
"(There is) an absolute guarantee to our staff in terms of providing all the support required," Mr Thomas said.
"What we will do is work with the Commonwealth Government and the new provider. We would be confident, where the staff want to continue employment with another provider, there is a possibility out there.
"Hopefully, there's a number of staff to be retrained and redeployed."
Mr Thomas knows, given the nature of the clientele, clear communication about the change will be vital.
"All our clients and families will receive a written letter to explain the process," Mr Thomas said.
"We're following that up with phone calls, starting with our most vulnerable clients.
"We see the (current) staff as key as part of that messaging with our clients. We can have one-on-one conversations, (reducing) anxiety."
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.