Last council care homes to be privatised

By James HoreVULNERABLE and elderly residents could be left facing an uncertain future if a decision is taken next week to privatise the county's care homes.

By James Hore

VULNERABLE and elderly residents could be left facing an uncertain future if a decision is taken next week to privatise the county's care homes.

The future of 12 residential care homes and day centres owned by Essex County Council has been in the balance while a two-month consultation was carried out.

Now council officers have recommended the homes should be sold or leased to the private sector in a money-saving move, despite acknowledging it would not be “broadly welcomed” by relatives and staff.

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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, also looks set to taken over by the Braintree, Witham and Halstead Care Trust.

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The controversial move - which has been likened to “selling off the family silver” by some doctors - could see the residential care homes change hands in June.

But Barbara Williamson, chairman of the Colchester Pensioners' Action Group, said there were worries about the impact the move could have on the elderly.

“There is a certain amount of concern that they will not remain as care homes and worries that people won't be able to afford it. There are so few places in residential care homes,” she added.

Mrs Williamson said the policy to care for more people in their own homes was also problematic.

“There will come a time when people will not be able to be looked after in their home because nobody will be there for them 24 hours a day,” she added.

Phyllis Webb, chairman of the Braintree Pensioners' Action Group, felt the residential care homes should remain in council ownership.

“There is the danger that if the home is not a success it could be sold on to someone else who would not be tied to the same rules and the home could be sold on as a building development,” she said.

Harwich Town Council has also declared its opposition to the move. Town councillor, Lawrie Payne, said: “We have expressed our opposition to the sell-off and are still in negotiations with Essex County Council.”

Essex County council said 17 of its homes had already been transferred into the private sector, which had resulted in an 320 extra residential care home beds being made available, more than half of which it had first option.

It added contracts on the homes would be for 20 years or more and they could only be used for residential purposes.

Robert Davidson, cabinet member for housing at Colchester Borough Council, said it was his personal opinion the changes would work.

“Anything that enables more beds to be provided at lower cost to Council Tax payers must be the right thing to do,” he added.

“The previous handover has been successful in 80% of cases in providing more beds for less money.”

David Holroyd, secretary of the Essex Independent Care Association, which contributed to the consultation, also said the move would save money and improve services.

“I think that over many years the independent sector has shown it can deliver high-quality, good-value and individual care - a task more suitable to organisations not bedevilled with bureaucracy,” he added.

“The average cost of running a county council care home can be two times, sometimes three times more than that of an independent one.”

Essex County Council's cabinet will meet on Tuesday to vote on the proposal.

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