Tag Archives: Lehmann House

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.”

Suffolk’s NSD – a Noddy Style Democracy?

Sadly, at full council yesterday the Conservative administration used its large majority to carry on with its horrifyingly unformed proposals of divestment  – and STILL without any public mandate.

I’m sharing below the speech I made against this decision. Unfortunately, despite its undoubted brilliance, and despite equally superb and  accurate speeches by my leader Kathy Pollard, deputy leader, David Wood, and colleague John Field, all the backbench conservatives voted with their leaders rather than their consciences  to support this unformed, uncosted, un-budgeted,  and undemocratic piece of ideologically-driven decision-making.

So in the years to come, folks,  you need to remember that this decision to ‘divest’ is NOT a coalition decision. This is NOT a national decision. It is NOT based on national cuts . No, the responsibility for the NSD  lies squarely in the hands of Leader Jeremy Pembroke, his Cabinet  – and all the Tory backbenchers on Suffolk County Council with huge reservations – not one of whom had the bottle to vote so in public!

My speech against the NSD

In September this council agreed  – via its socking Tory majority –  to push through the Cabinet recommendation , the NSD

–  Which stands for… what exactly?  Me, I think Noddy-style Democracy sums up the process pretty fairly!

Now there are lots and lots of reasons to object to this Enid  Blyton fantasy, the NSD, but I’m only given 3 minutes.

So, I won’t mention their spurious 30% cuts, nor the value of the services they want to sell off or throw away .  As regards its  lack of logic and responsibility to the people of Suffolk – I’ll confine myself to quoting the Deputy Leader :

“If people don’t value a service, it won’t be delivered. If no-one comes forward with an offer to deliver it, that’s proof it’s not needed.”

(What a superbly Toytown approach to service delivery that is, by the way! So, if no-one comes forward to unblock your loo, is that proof your loo’s not blocked? )

No, my three minutes is going on the democratic deficit that led to this decision – and the democratic deficit that underpins your  subsequent  ‘consultation’.

Now, I missed last meeting for serious personal reasons and so couldn’t cast my vote against the NSD. Did it matter?  Not a jot!

Why? Because the future of Suffolk’s services lies

  • not in the hands of its half a million plus electors,
  • not in the  hands of the 75 county councillors who represent them,
  • – and, – NOT  – in the hands of the  55 Tory councillors opposite who hold a majority vote.

NO, it  has been made by my esteemed colleagues, the Leader and  cabinet.

These ten people have unilaterally decided to  ‘transform Suffolk public services”.

Last September, Council also agreed “proactive and wide-ranging engagement across Suffolk to establish whether the key NSD proposals found favour with the communities.”  Note that  weasel word ‘engagement’ rather than ‘consultation.’

I’m sorry Jeremy, but your ‘proactive and wide-ranging engagement’ is a farce. Nowhere in your ‘engagement activity’  did you ask the VITAL question, “Shall we do it?”

Instead you askedDo you understand it?” And indeed, by 21 November you had 528 responses – 63% of who DID ‘understand’  Jeremy, the concept of ‘selling the family silver’ is very easy to understand.

What people don’t understand  is WHY you’re selling it without asking the family first.

So we Lib Dems decided to hold our own ‘engagement process’. We  actually walked around, we delivered 23,000 leaflets, we visited not a single town, once – as several of the Conservative councillors say they did – but town after town over and over again and talked to many residents  about your NSD.  And, you know what? People had never heard of it.

They were appalled, Jeremy!  We didn’t get 528 responses– we’ve had over 1500, and rising.

Aren’t you – even a little bit – aware of  just how angry most people are?

Or maybe this is the area where YOU ‘don’t understand’!

Now, some of my constituents think your plans ridiculous,

Some  of them think they are reprehensible.

But maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe they’re just WRONG.

Couldn’t you all  just admit you’re wrong?  There are lots of my colleagues opposite, who I know are privately very unhappy about what’s happening and how.  Of course you are. You’re friends of democracy – no fans of fairytales. You represent the people of Suffolk with as much passion and dedication as I do.

So why not go for it! Why not summon up the courage of all those thousands of crosses on your ballot papers?  People voted for democratic values. For Suffolk values!  NOT for Noddy Style Democracy. Suffolk is not Toytown! Playtime is over! So lets  consult properly – and LISTEN to the replies. The people of Suffolk aren’t  children. They don’t need fairy-tales. You can trust them to make grown-up decisions!

Lehmann House: (NOT) having your say…

On Friday I went to the public meeting at the threatened  Lehmann House in Wickham Market. Here the portfolio holder for Adult and Community Services, Cllr Noble,  plus officers  gave a presentation  explaining why the council were making big changes  – including almost certain closure – to this valued local resource.

Need I mention that these changes form yet another wobbly plank in the Heath Robinson contraption that is Suffolk County Council’s  NSD (New Strategic Direction)?

Just to remind you , Lehmann House offers 38 places (28 for older people with special needs because of dementia, two of which are respite places to give carers a rest, plus 10 places for permanent care to frail older people).  It has a lovely kindly atmosphere, home cooking that the residents can’t praise highly enough and is deeply deeply valued by the residents and their relatives and carers. There are generally several people from Woodbridge in Lehmann House at any given time..

The public who filled the room  – mainly carers, residents and relatives – listened in disbelief as the administration urged them to ” have their say on the future of Suffolk County Council’s residential care homes.”

Hardly much of a say, as one person pointed out, when there are only three options and none of them is keeping things as they are.

“People can’t complete your online consultation unless they pick one of your three options. What if I  don’t want one of those options? I can only continue to the next page if  I agree with you,” said one.

In fact so many people made  so much fuss about this particular point that they extorted a promise from those in charge to change the online questions and allow people to disagree with the options SCC is offering.   Lehmann House – 1: SCC – 0.

Oh – let me remind you of the options on offer:

  1. Close the homes and commission alternative services from the independent sector
  2. Sell all of the homes as going concerns
  3. Close a number of homes  and transfer the remaining ones to the independent sector.
    In addition to Lehmann house, the other  homes tipped for closure are Ixworth Court in Ixworth,The Dell in Beccles, Wade House in Stowmarket, Davers Court in Bury St. Edmunds, and Paddock House in Eye

But why does Suffolk County Council provide no option to keep things as they are? The head of the council adult care department says “I haven’t the money to keep care homes running.”  End of story.  No figures are given – here or elsewhere – to back up this bold assertion. No acknowledgement that in fact it isn’t his money, but Suffolk residents’ money. No suggestion whatsoever that Suffolk residents  should be accorded the respect of being in on the decision-making rather than consulted after the event!

The administration added that Lehmann house will have to close anyway sooner or later because ‘not all the rooms have en suite facilities and the next generation of consumers will want them‘ . How this ties in with their other assertion that there will be so many old people in Suffolk  twenty years time that we won’t be able to look after them all I am not sure. (If they thought about it, maybe people might prefer a care home place without en suite rather than no care home place at all. And maybe people would prefer to live in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability with easy access for relatives by foot, and bus as well as car.These questions are not included on the consultation questionnaire)

As one parent said “I am 91 years old. My daughter is 70. If she doesn’t have a place here, how can I look after her?”

Heartrending.

Besides which, as the entire room said loudly , what does twenty years on have to do with the price of fish? what  interest do these particular patients, carers and other family have in talk of alternatives to care,  putting more money into supporting people in their own homes, community initiatives?

“All the people here have no alternatives. They have been in their own homes. That time is now over. What does it matter to themwhat other people do in 20 years time? We want to know what’s happening to this home now…

Is there any chance we can keep it open?”

And thats where life gets interesting.

Whilst no-one would confirm that Lehmann House would close, the answers given suggested that the staff and residents of Lehmann House hadn’t a chance of taking over the premises at a peppercorn rent (as someone suggested) because  its not only that care homes are too expensive to run. They are also too valuable. SCC wants to close the six homes so they can sell them, leaving  the money (presumably) to be put into funding the transfer of the other homes to the independent sector. This would appear to give them two bites at the same cherry of  savings  – indeed, for all I know, might turn rather a neat profit on the closing of places such as Lehmann. A quick buck – but at what cost?

In which case the closure of this treasured home may depend less on intrinsic factors and more on its value to a speculator. After all, as I said, Lehmann House IS  in the centre of a small town within easy reach of shops and sociability by foot, and bus as well as by car..

So  the jury is technically out. Technically.

I’ll put my money on Option 3 being the one that mysteriously is the peoples’ choice at the end of this figleaf of a consultation.