Monday, 27 January 2014

The Care Homes...and the £7m mystery

In February 2011 a proposal to close two care homes in Llanelli, Caemaen and St Pauls suffered a rare defeat in the council Chamber. The campaigners and residents who had fought a bitter battle, were understandably delighted. I happened to be there as an observer in the gallery. The horrified reaction of officials, and the then leader, Meryl Gravell made it obvious that this was only going to be a temporary measure and there has been determination, ever since, to justify closure.
Since then, despite Carmarthenshire's burgeoning elderly population the homes have remained underused. I can only imagine there were cheaper alternatives for the council. Or that is how it has been presented...

Not surprisingly, the two care homes appeared back in the budget consultation in November 2013.

Fast forward to last week's Llanelli Star and Executive Board Cllrs Madge and Tremlett are 'delighted' to announce that, suddenly, £7m has been found 'within the capital budget' to fund the Llanelli Extra Care scheme, well a phase of it anyhow which will replace the council care homes. And today, the same press release appears on the council website.

Also, back in November 2013, the council's draft five year Capital Programme was published. It contained, believe it or not, no provision whatsoever for funding for this new 'Llanelli Extra Care Scheme'.

To be clear on this, Extra care units are small bungalows or tiny apartments designed for frail elderly people. They pay the council rent and their own council tax and utilities, like any other tenants, but the idea is that rather than having the social life and 24 hour care of the "expensive" council care homes, where staff are trained and have contracts with paid holidays and a pension, the Extra Care places are looked after by short visits from cheaper private carers without the standards of council care homes in either staff training, continuity or availability.
The only 'extra' will be the profits for private firms and their zero hours contracts.

Let's just remember, at this point, that the Executive Board doesn't officially meet until next Monday (3rd February) and the full council doesn't consider the budget until February 19th.

Who was so confident that the Exec Board, and the council as a whole, would approve this that they released the details to the press before the decision was actually made?

And the big question is, where on earth has this mysterious £7m come from?

Cllr Sian Caiach, as a Member of the Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee which had discussed the budget cuts in December thought she ought to ask, as it was all news to her.

She was told that the £600,000 which will be 'saved' by closing St Pauls will be used to service a loan of £4.5m, and £2.5m will be coming out of the council reserves. (Earlier this month the Plaid opposition group's suggestion that reserves could be used to protect against cuts was rejected as 'not prudent')

Should the Extra Care Scheme take off, Caemaen Care Home is also likely to close.

So, basically, the council are closing a care home in order to spend £7m. The £600,000 is not a true 'economy'  but a source of funding for service privatisation. Not an arrangement the Scrutiny committee were aware of back in December.

The council currently pays around £16m per year in interest on a debt of around £250m. All capital projects now involve considerable borrowing. If borrowing to fund the council's penchant for public buildings (some might say 'vanity' projects) had been a little more 'prudent' and kept to essential development only, that £16m in interest might be a bit less and the council wouldn't have to cut anything at all.

The council would have been well aware that there was going to be opposition, maybe even within the ruling administration again, to closure of these care homes. What better way to deter another rebellion than by producing £7m out of thin air and using the council press office to push the proposal home, all before any decisions were supposed to have even been made.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it's despicable to see the Executive's glee in shedding a valuable service that the care homes offer to the most frail members of the community.

Yes, it's abhorrent to foist care responsibilities onto the private sector, which, let's face it, has a patchy record at best.

Yes, it's a slap in the face to elected Councillors to see these decisions apparently being taken in advance of any consideration of the budget by Council.

Yes, it's incredible how £7 MILLION can be found in such circumstances.

Yes, it's galling for this to be announced through the PR department.

But the depressing reality is that the sheep on the Labour benches will take all of this lying down, and the opposition will not be brave enough to challenge it in the only place that can sort out this kind of nonsense - in the courts.

Anonymous said...

Come on, who can afford to challenge the council lawyers, tax funded and with practically unlimited resources?
The law is the weapon of the rich and CCC will happily defend itself with our money.
Anyway, their primary legal tactic is to question everything and delay, delay, delay. The boxes for the frail elderly will be built long before it gets to court.