Social care: Suffolk Tories ‘riding roughshod over democracy’

Suffolk County Council Liberal Democrats are accusing the Conservative administration of once again running a ‘sham consultation’ – this time on the future of council-run care homes in the county. Its sham because the Tories have already made a unilateral decision either to close or to sell them all off.

On Thursday last  (13/01) representatives of Suffolks boroughs and district councils were invited to “Have Your Say on the Future of Suffolk County Council’s residential care homes” by Suffolk County Council’s Adult and Community Services portfolio-holder Colin Noble. The meeting took place at SCC’s Ipswich headquarters.

It became apparent at the start of the meeting that the decision had already been made, even though the issue was still officially out to consultation. The public had been asked to only comment on and prefer one of three preselected options for the future of the county’s care for the elderly:

  1. Gradually close the homes and use only independent care homes
  2. Sell all the homes as ‘going concerns’
  3. Close six homes and transfer the remaining homes to the independent sector.

There was no option to keep any of the homes within council control. There was also no option for individual management buy-outs.

Cllr Noble’s opening salvo was:    “We have made a decision at cabinet level that we will no longer pay for care homes. So if you have come here wanting us to continue running care homes, you’re wasting your time. The decision has already been made.”

This statement came as a surprise to elected members who were attending the meeting , including me.   

Cllr Noble seemed to be confusing a cabinet decision to ‘consult’ on options for divestment with a final decision taken by all councillors at a formal council meeting. Now,  Suffolk County Council consists of 75 members from a range of parties. The Cabinet consists of ten members of a single party: the Conservatives.

They are riding roughshod over democracy.

Whose council is this anyway? The Council’s care budget, and the care homes themselves are not in Cllr Noble’s gift  – nor in  that of any other official, elected or otherwise. The budget and the care homes belong to the people of Suffolk. The Council holds them in trust and should administer them wisely on our behalf.

My colleague,  Inga Lockington, Lib Dem Spokesperson for Older People, points out that:

“All councillors must  have a chance to vote on this important issue on behalf of their constituents.

Cllr Noble is pursuing a policy which will lead to many frail older people being evicted from their homes. When care homes close, the health of frail elderly people can be seriously affected and it can even hasten their deaths. Cllr Noble needs to acknowledge this when pursuing such a policy, in the face of so much concern within our community.

I am also concerned that taking nearly 200 care places out of the County’s care provision, in the face of the increasing incidence of dementia, will  create a waiting list and a “Market” which will result in the most needy finding themselves at the end of a lengthening queue.”

Many local residents in Suffolk continue to be alarmed at the SCC administration’s proposals to ‘divest’ themselves of their care homes – particularly in the fact that the decision came before the busniess case.    In fact we’re STILL WAITING for ANY business case. .

Bryan Hall, who is the district councillor for Wickham Market (where a specialist care-home for dementia patients is threatened with closure and sell-off for development) says:

“I am very concerned that Suffolk County Council have decided, without public mandate, to stop being social care providers. In particular, residential homes such as Wickham Market’s Lehmann House, which has a large number of residents suffering from dementia is, in my view – and that of my constituents –  irreplaceable. For a start, it is in the heart of our town – which is where we want our old people to stay. There may possibly be private homes somewhere in Suffolk able to provide a similar service, but there is no guarantee they are anywhere near the Wickham Market area. It is not right that old people who have served their community all their lives, should be excluded like this in their last years.”

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