Tuesday 28 January 2014

Pork barrel politics

This blog reported recently on the council's plans to close the St Paul's residential care home in Llanelli, and Caebrwyn has discovered that part two of this plan will involve a scheme to open what the council calls an  "Extra Care" facility in the town.

There are several things about this scheme which should have the alarm bells ringing, beginning with the very sudden and unexpected appearance of a major capital project.

As Caebrwyn has pointed out, there was no mention of this scheme in the draft Capital Programme published last November, and it has not been presented to or discussed by any council committee. Indeed, it has not appeared on an published agenda to date.

The words "extra care" did make a brief appearance in the recent public consultation document on budget cuts, but it is extremely unlikely that members of the public would have understood what they meant or that the scheme would be extended to Llanelli following the closure of St Paul's.

This is what the consultation document actually said:

Better utilisation of staff and buildings by closure of St Paul’s as a residential care home but being developed to provide supported accomodation and bringing forward closure of either the Glanmarlais or Tegfan residential care homes. This is part of the new extra care development and providing alternative accommodation through use of spare capacity and as part of our investment programme in newer, more modern and up to date facilities- £1.7 million.

The way in which the new "Extra Care" units would be financed is reminiscent of other visionary council schemes such as Parc y Scarlets and Eastgate, with Peter being robbed to pay Paul, untransparent guesstimates and bags of wishful thinking. £600,000 in savings from the closure of St Paul's will be used, it seems, to finance a £4.5 million loan, with a further £2.5 million being taken from reserves.

This raises many questions.
  • How was the figure of £600,000 arrived at? Is it the net savings expected from the closure of St Paul's for a full year?
  • Does developing St Paul's to provide "supported accommodation" mean the Extra Care scheme, or is that different? What will be the cost of redeveloping the existing home? Surely not £7 million?
  • What will the cost of the £4.5 million loan be? The council's debt of £250 million is currently costing £16 million to service. On that basis the St Paul's loan would cost £288,000 to finance - enough for just over two years. What happens after that?
  • What is the projected income of the new facility, and how will the loan be paid off?
  • Where does the £2.5 million come from, and why did Kevin Madge and senior council officers recently dismiss Plaid proposals to take £1 million out of reserves, implying that this would not be prudent?
But back to the timing of this announcement.

What happened between November and mid-January for this major scheme suddenly to be conjured out of thin air without any scrutiny or discussion by anyone apart from senior officers and a handful of members of the Executive Board?

If it is now presented as a part of the budget proposals for 2014-15, there will be almost no time for councillors to give it anything more than a glancing look, as they grapple with a huge package of controversial cuts and other measures in a few short hours. All the better for that, the backers have probably calculated.

The clue lies in a statement made by Cllr Jane "Crapita" Tremlett to the Llanelli Star:

With developments already underway in Carmarthen and looking to begin in Ammanford, Councillor Tremlett said: "Looking carefully at the care provision in the Llanelli area – and more importantly at the standard of care we want to provide – it is only right that the people of Llanelli should benefit from the best there is as well.

Translated into plain English what that means is that the Labour-Independent coalition, an uneasy balancing act between groups based around Ammanford and Llanelli, ran into trouble with the Llanelli caucus, and the scheme has been rushed out to keep them happy.

The rest of us will be picking up the bills for years to come, and long after Kevin Madge, Tegwen Devichand, Mark James and the rest have started drawing their gold-plated pensions.

If and when councillors are given a chance to examine these proposals, assuming that the acting Head of Law is not wheeled out to rule that any involvement by the bulk of elected councillors is unacceptable micro-management, they should also ask what Extra Care actually involves.

All the signs are that it is PR-speak for an outsourced bare minimum of 15 minute drop ins by poor sods on the minimum wage and zero hour contracts.


Anonymous said...

What no-one is mentioning at the moment is what I consider to be a fundamental difference between care homes and supported accommodation.

My understanding of supported accommodation is apartments for independent living with support staff (usually just a manager/caretaker) based on the complex. They are great homes - specially adapted to help older people stay an independent as possible for as long as possible. We definitely need more of them as our population ages and people look to downsize to more manageable accommodation. But they are not care homes.

Care homes serve a different purpose for the old and frail. They ensure residents are up, washed and dressed; take their medication on times; have a warm meal and plenty of fluids. They enable older people to socialise and undertake activities. Staff are there 24 hours a day and check on residents throughout the night.

Supported accommodation doesn't work for everyone. It can't work for everyone. We need a mix of supported housing, residential homes and nursing care homes. One shouldn't be instead of the other.

Anonymous said...

The CJ today has a few pages devoted to "why I like Carmarthen" etc. There are submissions by PHG and Kevin Madge but by far the most prestigious part was reserved for the CE Mark James who spekes about what has been done and what is going to be done. he comes across as quite pretentious and arrogant - almost teasing readers with what he is able to provide for the town. The point is this - I don't think I should know the name of the CE. He should be a Funtionary carrying out the wishes of the council not being responsible for developments. I Can vote out KM I can't vote

raeding today's CJ it is quite telling who is in charge and it doesn't appear to be KM.

County Hall Mole said...

The lights are on in the Chief Executives' office in County Hall and there are several cars in the car park including the Chief's Jaguar... Something up at the Kremlin? ;-)