Fight lost to stop care homes sale
By Roddy AshworthPENSIONERS voiced their shock and dismay last night after losing a battle to stop county-council care homes from being sold off.But Essex County Council leader, Lord Hanningfield, insisted the authority's provision for the elderly was being changed to improve the services they received.
By Roddy Ashworth
PENSIONERS voiced their shock and dismay last night after losing a battle to stop county-council care homes from being sold off.
But Essex County Council leader, Lord Hanningfield, insisted the authority's provision for the elderly was being changed to improve the services they received.
Conservative councillors at County Hall voted yesterday to privatise its 12 remaining residential care homes as part of a huge cost-cutting programme.
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Under the move, Greenways in Colchester, Lime Court in Dovercourt, Longfield in Maldon and Okeley in Chelmsford - which have 157 beds between them - all stand to be privatised.
Millard House in Braintree, which has 43 beds, looks set to be taken over by the Braintree, Witham and Halstead Care Trust.
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More than 40 pensioners demonstrated before the meeting and some made their views known in the chamber as council members debated the controversial policy.
A county council spokesman said: “There were some angry scenes when the decision was taken.
“However, we have stressed from the beginning that this is a transferring of homes to the private sector, not a closure.
“This is so that standards can be improved and the number of beds increased to meet the needs of an expanding, ageing population.”
The decision to sell off the care homes came after a large Council Tax increase was announced earlier this year, which the authority blamed on the new method Westminster used to distribute finances to local government.
Essex County Council then proposed a number of cost-cutting measures to try to keep next year's Council Tax increase as low as possible, including the sale of its residential homes.
But the proposal - not supported by either the Liberal Democrat or Labour groups - was opposed by a number of pensioner groups, which claimed it would throw the future of the county's residential care provision into doubt.
Phyllis Webb, 73, chairman of Braintree Pensioners' Action Group, said she and about 40 members had demonstrated outside County Hall before the meeting and then had gone and sat inside.
“We didn't give them an easy ride. We said 'Shame on you'. We were very disgruntled. If these last homes go private, they might not be able to make a success of it,” she added.
“We asked whether, if they were not successful, the council would buy them back and they said no. We are worried they could eventually be sold for housing or development.
“I am very disappointed, we are all very cross actually. We need a cross-section of private and council-run homes.”
Howard Williams, chairman of the Essex Pensioners' Action Association and acting chairman of the Eastern Region of the National Pensioners' Convention, said: “It is a great shame because the people taking over these homes will be motivated by profit.
“Although we are told the council are going to be monitoring them, we haven't got a lot of faith in that. I think it is a sad day.”
But Lord Hanningfield insisted the privatisation of the homes was not simply about saving money, but also about providing a better service for the elderly.
He added when another 17 homes had been transferred to the private sector previously, there had been no complaints from residents.
“The people who were causing the problems today were left-wing activists, not pensioners,” said Lord Hanningfield.
“The majority of people these days want care in their own homes. We have to change the facilities. We are going to spend a lot more money on social services. We want to provide the finest services for elderly people in the country.”