Vulnerable and elderly people will be "auctioned off to the lowest bidder" under a "toxic" new contract proposed by Cornwall Council, claims the owner of two cares in Falmouth.

The council has been consulting over its plans to introduce an "overarching agreement" for the provision of residential and nursing care, which all care and nursing homes in the county are being asked to sign up to, if they want to continue to receive clients funded by the council.

Cornwall Partners in Care (CPC), which is made up of care providers across the county, employed solicitors in Bristol to go over the proposed contract who have advised the group not to sign it, describing it as "toxic." They have produced a 34 page report detailing everything they claim is wrong with it.

Barry Libby, a director of the Comfort Care Group, which owns the King Charles Court nursing home and Sheldon House care home in Falmouth, is concerned the contract could lead to families being separated by miles and could even result in redundancies at his two homes.

Melissa Jones, manager at King Charles Court, has set up an online petition against the contract, which can be found at and has attracted over 2,800 signatures. She also took a paper petition into Falmouth on Friday and with the help of some of her staff, collected just under 400 more.

"This is due to come in on April 1, but it's so bad," said Mr Libby. "We as a group of care home owners are meeting regularly to try to understand what it's all about. The council wants us all to sign up to this or we won't get any placements, although I'm not sure what they are going to do with them."

The contract will introduce a "bidding system" whereby homes will be asked to bid for every person needing care. "The council will accept the lowest bidder, so a lady in Penzance could end up going to Looe, unless the family pay the extra for them to stay closer," said Mr Libby. "Vulnerable people are being auctioned off to the lowest bidder."

Melissa added: "No thought has been given to the logistical difficulties that families may face. Many relatives of elderly residents in care are elderly themselves, many don't drive and rely on public transport. We say that this is a potential breach of their right to family life.

"In addition, the new contract intends to impose what we feel are unreasonable and unrealistic demands on care home providers which will see care homes across the county struggle to pay their staff or to keep staffing levels at a safe ratio to residents."

On average, the Comfort Care Group accepts one or two placements from the council every couple of months, but this will stop if the contract is not signed. Mr Libby fears this will lead to bed-blocking at hospitals if all 80 or so members of CPC do not sign also. "Treliske will be bunged up to the eyeballs and we will have empty beds," he said.

Mr Libby accepts things have to change. "The old contract is not really workable," he said, "but they have to change things and be more realistic. Everything is prescriptive and we cannot work on that basis."

Despite being asked several times, Cornwall Council has failed to make any comment.