Friday, June 19, 2009

Sheltered housing warden cuts scrape through

Last night was the first meeting of the new Business Management Overview and Scrutiny sub Committee. Cllr Jack Cohen is the Lib Dem representative on the committee and I went along to watch as he had called in the decision to scrap the site based Sheltered housing warden service. The first meeting was not an auspicious occasion. Jack has a very calm analytical method of questioning both officers and cabinet members and it soon became clear that there were big holes in the proposals to cut the wardens.

First up was the admission that no cabinet member had been to visit a sheltered housing scheme as part of the consultation process. The reason? – too upsetting. Basically it was clear that if Cllr Cornelius (the cabinet member responsible) had gone then the emotions evoked by some very upset and angry residents might have swayed his decision. Never mind the poor staff from Barnet who were sent to defend the indefensible. I know for a fact that many of them found the experience traumatic. I’m reminded of Cllr Brian Salinger the previous leader of the Council before the coup. I disagreed with him on many things but I am sure that he would have gone and presented his case to the residents.

Then we moved onto the future provision. Jack asked how many people in there own homes would be helped by the new arrangements. After all this is one of the justifications for doing it. Answer – We don’t know. Well if they don’t know then how are they going to manage it? There will have to be a budget. Will they start turning people away when the budget is spent? The inability of the cabinet member to produce a clear business case for his proposals was frankly shocking. We are putting all these vulnerable people through hell and we are not even sure of the benefits of doing so!

And then came the vote. The Tory councillors all voted against apart from Cllr Scannell who abstained. The Chairman Cllr Prentice used her casting vote to push the measure through.

It was clearly wrong to start this whole affair as part of the budget setting process. If we were going to look at Sheltered housing provision then it should have been a piece of work done ahead of the decision (not after it). There needs to be a robust needs analysis and a real consultation so that any conclusions are based on evidence and not simply the desire to find budget cuts.

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