Bexley council has to cut spending by £10 million pounds next year in order to freeze council tax. Our neighbours in Bromley raised taxes this year and are
on course to do it again in 2014. Maybe that is the more honest course of action.
Council leader Teresa O’Neill decided against reducing the number of councillors (£300,000 a year saving) and wouldn’t give Elwyn Bryant’s petition house room (another £300,000) and has blown around forty million on her new headquarters when on the council’s own admission, redevelopment on the existing site was the “highly efficient” option and around ten million pounds cheaper, but we are where we are. Now Teresa has to wield the axe and suddenly there is the usual plethora of consultations.
This week has seen the borough plastered with posters about Care Services. There are two of them in the associated photo.
In all walks of life there is a move by service providers to make their customers do the work. Self service tills in supermarkets, pre-payment only for bus fares - cash not accepted - and pay by phone parking. In Newham my 93 year old aunt is dissuaded from having visitors because parking permits are available only on-line and that is not something she can manage any more. I have to impersonate her, she has no other relatives so it is fortunate that I am only four miles but, thanks to Boris and Big Tess, a 40 minutes drive away. I’m sometimes tempted to make Newham social services pick up the bill for looking after her.
This move towards self-service can be a good thing but it needs to be applied sensibly.
Instead of providing domiciliary care (though agencies contracted at the cheapest possible price) for those who need it, Bexley council is proposing they should drop out of the service totally by just paying the care recipients to make the arrangements themselves.
I asked someone very much involved with Bexley care services if he knew of the proposals and discovered they weren’t as new as I thought. He had already been subjected to a little pressure to make the change but quickly lost interest when the details became clear.
If he had expected to be given a similar hourly sum to that the care agencies have available he would have soon been disappointed. Out of the reduced amount he was expected to be responsible for the tax liabilities of his chosen carers and an administration fee to whoever is supervising the carers. In the event they couldn’t even find suitable carers.
His advice is “Be sure to read all the small print”.
Bexley council is attempting to withdraw from the service to reduce its costs even further and logic dictates that as carers’ pay cannot go any lower without falling foul of the minimum wage regulations, there is only one option for funding Bexley’s cuts. The sick and disabled will have to find the money.
Another activity being lined up for changes is the Children’s Centre Service. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but Bexley council says it is planning changes to ensure the centres “provide the best value for money”. It’s their favourite form of words when about to attack residents or services.
The price of Residents’ Parking Permits was tripled because it provided “value for money”. That phrase appears 53 times on this website against various proposals. Using CCTV to chase motorists is “value for money”. Will Tuckley is “good value for money”. The council’s new HQ is “good value for money”. It is a phrase that should be regarded with the utmost suspicion. The closure of two children’s centres (Bedonwell Road and Upton Road) and invitations to private companies to run the others is unlikely to be for the benefit of parents. They will be paying the price of a frozen council tax.
It is a superficially attractive Tory goal when an election is due a month after the council tax bill arrives but a Children’s Centre is not a playschool. It provides practical help for disadvantaged families, for victims of domestic violence and learning opportunities for unemployed parents. Some things are not suited to being sold off to the highest bidder but in a month that has seen Bexley council associate itself with a loss making private company rather than the successful Howbury Friends, one should expect nothing less.
Isn’t Bexley council in enough trouble already with children’s services having been condemned by OFSTED and ignored the plight of poor Rhys Lawrie? On the other hand Chris Taylor (Adults’ Services) has been able to state at council meetings that the poor working conditions of Bexley’s care workers are nothing to do with him and the cabinet member for Children’s Services may have seen the advantages.
Those who decide to ‘Have your say’ on Children’s Services may be disappointed to discover that the whole document must be printed out, completed with a pen and posted in to the council by 15th January 2014. It is not an on-line form. That would be far too easy.
P.S. Found this on-line survey specifically on the Bedonwell Children’s Centre closure. Hurry, closes Friday. Also the general children’s centre survey.