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Bonkers Blog February 2011

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16 February (Part 1) - Sheltered Homes Are Misled

Bexley council is keen to persuade us that they are consulting over cuts but their consultations are usually a pretence. The mayor and cabinet system was approved after a web based poll in which there was no control over duplicate votes and which failed to attract even 100 voters. For all we know most of them could have been councillors with their eye on the money. It’ll be the same with the Bexleytalks on-line consultation. I looked there yesterday and found myself caught up in a debate about Wootton Bassett railway station. The navigation is appalling but when I got to the Bexley section I found it had 49 signed up members debating six different topics, five of them started by the same person. 49 people out of a population in excess of a quarter of a million! Let’s hope the main guy is a Bexley resident, otherwise the thing would be a bigger farce than I think it is.

The council Leader and the CEO were supposed to tour the borough meeting the people. The only ‘road-show’ I went to the shameful pair didn’t turn up. The librarian (the venue was a library) later said the cowards turned up some hours later after being tipped off that I and an accomplice had gone home. It would be my accomplice, he is well known at the library, I am not. At least it shows us what consultation means to Teresa O’Neill and her over-paid CEO.

The council has been ‘consulting’ residents in sheltered accommodation and sending out questionnaires. The first attempt failed totally because it was far too complicated and another one has been issued and a couple of council officials are touring the homes to explain the changes. Only a month ago they sent out a letter saying they weren’t “anticipating any significant impact” when it was obvious from the level of financial cuts to be made that there are bound to be changes. A warden in one of the homes spilled a few beans at the time. Now a resident in one of the homes who saw that report has added her own two-pennyworth.

It has been explained to me that there are many sheltered homes in Bexley (my research suggests nearly 40) and they are managed by several different companies who I assume may not all operate in the same way. All are funded by Bexley council and those funds have been cut as revealed in last month’s letter to residents. My source is in a home managed by a company called Avante. It is my understanding that in addition to the weekly rent Avante charge a compulsory fee for Warden Services. The warden works a normal week of about 37 hours and is a salaried member of Avante’s staff paid to offer any reasonable assistance that the residents may require. Pension and tax queries, maybe low level medical advice; that sort of thing. I am told, though it seems very strange to me, that Avante proposes that the warden surcharge on rents becomes voluntary, the logic being - though I fail to see it - that lots of residents will opt out and not be eligible for warden assistance. This in turn will allow the warden’s hours to be reduced along with the salary. I’m not sure how that saves Avante money but I can see it causing all sorts of chaos. “I have run out of pills and will die if I don’t get some soon, could you run down the chemist for me?” “No, you didn’t pay your dues this week because you said councillor Craske stole all this week’s pension after you parked in an unmarked residents’ parking bay.”

So what did Avante have to say when these concerns were voiced at the consultation meeting? Nothing, because they didn’t bother to turn up. The questions were fielded by two unfortunates from Bexley council who probably through no fault of their own knew little. All they had to say was that there had been a very good response to the latest questionnaire although when a quick poll was taken of the residents present, fewer than 5% had answered it. I had hoped to be able to give a link to the questionnaire on the council’s website but it isn’t there; the latest one on-site is about a different consultation held in 2006. You are going to have to make do with my scanned copy. Will elderly residents appreciate being asked if they are still the same sex now that they were born to? I doubt my 90 year old aunt would have a clue what gender reassignment is. More seriously some questions seem to lead the respondent to a particular answer. “Should support only be provided when there is a need”. Well yes, anything else would be a waste but that answer will lead to a further reduction in warden hours which not so long ago were 24/7. The constant request to “explain below the reasons for your answer” would cause me difficulty let alone someone who may not enjoy playing with words. No wonder there has been a sub-5% response from one group of residents.

Similar consultations are being held between parents of children with Special Education Needs who are on course to have £1,650,000 knocked off their budget by 2014. I hope to have a report from a parent soon.

PS. A bit late in the day I have found the consultation document and various other things on-line but not at the usual Bexley site. It’s at Quite a lot of interesting stuff there but it does make you realise that an awful lot of money must be spent on fancy PowerPoint presentations; and what sort of idiot puts a PowerPoint file on the web anyway? It’s a program you own only if you have spent a great deal of money on Microsoft’s top of the range Office Suite or are sufficiently computer literate to find a free PowerPoint reader. Just the sort of thing that the average sheltered housing resident will know all about.


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