Boss of collapsed care firm says ‘Fife Council is biggest joke’

Ruth Smyth spoke to the Press from Spain.
Ruth Smyth spoke to the Press from Spain.

The director of a Kirkcaldy care firm which closed its doors last week has hit out at Fife Council, branding it ‘a joke’

Staff at Paramount Care Agency, based at Mitchelston Industrial Estate were left shocked last Wednesday after being told that the firm would close later that day – and that they would not be paid for the work they have done.

This has broken me, it’s so upsetting for me.

Ruth Smyth

A total of 22 staff lost their jobs.

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They expressed anger towards director Ruth Smyth, who sent them an email blaming Fife Council, who, she says, owes the firm money.

Now Ms Smyth has spoken to the Fife Free Press from her home in Spain, and she blamed the council, thinning profit margins, and government changes which brought in pension payments.

She said: “We’ve been going around 19 years, and the council has really done this to us.

“It’s awful. Money’s owed, it’s not coming through, and we’re getting paid an hourly rate now that is less than what we got paid eight years ago. The council owes us money. It would dispute how much, but we are owed in total about £40,000.

“I was going court for one client that owed £10,000, but now it is saying that it doesn’t owe us that, but it has never said why.”

The council confirmed there were some “historic” invoices which, it said, Paramount claimed were payable.

The local authority’s legal team is in discussion with the company’s owners.

Closure was also down to profit margins becoming increasingly thin.

Ms Smyth said she was also owed money.

She formed the company and, in 2017, retired. According to Paramount’s website, her shares were transferred to Paramount Care Agency Employee Trust Limited

She said: “I gave them five years to pay me for my shares and they still owe me over £100,000. I’ll never get that, because the company doesn’t have any money.

“The bottom line is, you’re getting £17.10 per hour for a client. It’s an absolute disgrace when cleaners are asking for £20 an hour – that’s what the council gives us.

“You’ve got the Scottish minimum wage, then you’ve got National Insurance and, pension contributions, and I’ve got to keep an office, phones, and a registered manager.”

Ms Smyth said she realised on Monday, September 16, that the firm would be closing –and it did so two days later.

She said: “We can’t afford to appoint a liquidator.

“That’s why I had to close the doors. I was at the top of my overdraft. I personally put in £24,000 in the last three weeks, and I can’t do that anymore.”

“I sold my shares to the employees because I wanted them to have control of the company in May 2017, but because of the fact that there is no cashflow in the care sector, I agreed that they would pay me over five years, but I was still owed over £100,000, and I’m not going to get that.

“By law, all employers have to contribute to a pension scheme for their employees. That’s five per cent, but that was an added burden, even though staff didn’t want to do it, but with the paperwork involved they couldn’t be bothered opting out.

“We also had to stop paying our staff mileage because of the margins when the council sealed the top rate.”

Ms Smyth also said the closure had affected her personally.

She said: “This has broken me, it’s so upsetting for me.

“We had no option,” she said. “ We’ve tried and tried and tried – knowing that there was a big pay week coming up and there’s no way I could fund it anymore.

“I was funding it every fortnight and there’s no way I can do that. I’m 63 and I need to have enough money to retire on.

“I haven’t been paid. Even though I went in as a consultant after I retired, I haven’t been paid anything in two years.

“It’s only now that we’ve heard from Fife Council’s legal department that it is disputing the figures, but that has taken since 2012.

“I’ve had emails saying that it has lost information, and all the rest of it. Fife Council is the biggest joke.”

Councillor David Graham, the council’s spokesman for health and Social care, paid tribute to the staff for their work with vulnerable members of the community.

He said: “We were made aware of the closure of Paramount Care last Wednesday.

“Since then we have been working tirelessly with other providers to ensure that all people who were previously cared for by Paramount are now being cared for at least in the short term with other providers.

“Work continues to ensure that we can continue to provide the levels of care required in the longer term.

“I want to go on record to thank the staff from the service and other providers for their excellent work in ensuring care for our most vulnerable continues in this very challenging situation for everyone involved.”

Regarding Ms Smyth’s claims that Fife Council owed the company money, a spokesperson said: “Fife Council is considering some historic invoices which Paramount claim are payable by the council. The council’s Legal Team is in discussion with Paramount’s solicitors about these invoices.”

‘She’s living it up in Spain ... I’m left with nothing’

Kenneth Aitken (53) is one of the carers affected by the closure.

He had been with the company for nine years.

He said: “I got a phonecall from the care manager to say not to go to any clients – then we were told an email will follow.

“I’m really disgusted. What annoys me most is the director who sold the company to the employees is living it up in Spain. She’s been there for a while.

“It leaves me in it. I’m left with nothing. I’ve got to apply now for Universal Credit – I haven’t been on the dole for over 30 years.

“I’m gutted – not just for me, but for my clients too. I’ve got a bond with some of them.

“Some clients I take out a couple of times a week. They can’t go out now as there’s no one to take them.

He added: “Why were we not told about this before? We could have had the chance to look for another job.

“At the end of the day she wasn’t thinking about her staff, or her clients.

“She’s left all the carers and the clients in deep.

“We could lose our house now, because you’re talking about upto five weeks for Universal Credit. I need to pay rent, feed us all, pay gas and electricity.

Kenneth said he did 21 and a half hours overtime last week.

“To be told by email is pretty bad,” he said. “I wanted to go out the next morning to see my clients, but I can’t because as of 10.00pm last Wednesday we were not insured.”

‘I should have been getting a good wage next week’

One staff member, who did not wish to be named, revealed how people relying on the service were hit by the company’s sudden closure.

She said: “We all received a call, from the office manager at 3pm saying that an email would be sent out and to make sure we read it.

“By 5.10pm, we got the email stating that we wouldn’t be receiving any money.

“The company shut at 10pm, so there were clients out there the next day who were being neglected, because Fife Council couldn’t put care in place until the following day.

“There was a lady who was going to be stuck in a chair all night, but two of the carers, who weren’t even allocated to her, went out, off their own backs to make sure she was put to her bed.

“A lot of the clients were very distraught.”

She said the closure had left her in a difficult position.

“I’ve got four children at home and won’t be receiving my last wage or any other money that’s due.

“I had worked a lot of hours and taking the on-call phone, so I should have been getting a good wage next week.

“I was supposed to have been paid next Friday, but that’s gone – holiday pay, everything.”