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Councillor on Medway Council: The Issues

Linked Service Centres

John Ward

This topic received much local media coverage during 2001 and early 2002, most of it seriously misleading. The story that has been put about is that the Conservatives on Medway Council wish to close the four Linked Service Centres and throw their elderly residents out on the street.

Wrong!

What really happened was that the Labour group, who were the administration of the Council at the time, set up a so-called Best Value review of services for elderly people before the local elections in the year 2000. Within this Labour government scheme they set a savings target of 5 per cent (they were desperately short of money by that time, having frittered away most of the Council's reserves, as is well known) which is a very high target: the minimum two per cent would have been more appropriate for this particular review, and that was the figure the Conservatives had suggested.

By the time the review was complete, the Conservatives had taken over the administration of Medway Council, and the proposals coming out of the Best Value exercise included the possibility of closing, or at least changing the use of, the four Linked Service Centres. We first checked the legal situation and proceeded in the only way we were allowed to do under the Best Value rules: we (admittedly rather reluctantly) accepted the proposals so that we could move to what is called the implementation stage, which would first involve considerable public consultation.

Part of the reason for the precise form of the proposals was because of changes that were already under way at the Centres—for example, one is well on the way toward specializing in the mental health aspect of elderly care, and there are similar things happening at other of the Centres—and part was because of new, somewhat dictatorial, legislation from central government specifying certain minimum standards such as room size and the need for en suite facilities. These standards would need to be applied within the next few years.

Now this is all well and good, but it meant that our four Linked Service Centres would fail to meet those standards, so we would be forced to move our residents there to other accommodation. It was this insensitive approach by the Blair government that was the real cause of the need to move our elderly residents out of the four Centres. It would have been much better to have insisted on these standards for new accommodation and to have allowed existing homes to continue as they are for as long as the places last. It should certainly have been left up to the local authority to decide what to do and when—not for Westminster to dictate to us what we should do on our own "patch", so to speak.

This marked the start of a lengthy, well-orchestrated campaign by the Labour members of the Council and their good friends in the heavily-Unionised public sector (including some of the staff at the Linked Service Centres) to frighten the residents into believing they were soon to be thrown out of their homes. The Labour-friendly elements of the local media also helped to promote this huge deception, as did their own "spin doctor" a.k.a. Political Assistant.

Anyway, in the event, so many local Councils and pressure groups up and down the country protested to the Government about their proposals that they were effectively forced to take these requirements out of the finalised Act of Parliament. It helped that it was an election year.

So, now we are able to allow the Centres to carry on as before, while still allowing them to move forward in the various ways they had already planned to do, and this is what we poposed at the very next Social Services Committee meeting. This met with all-party approval. Even so, the Labour group continued their completely dishonest campaign against the Conservatives after this decision had been taken.

All of the truth is in the official papers of this Council going back over more than two years, something I (John) pointed out in a letter to Medway News in mid-September 2001. Interestingly, this seemed to completely kill off the Labour campaign against us, at least for several months: when confronted with the proof of the truth that any member of the public could check, they must have realised that they could no longer could not stand up to public scrutiny and abandoned their smear campaign. No doubt they are, however, already working on the next scam...

The conclusions that can be drawn from this whole business include: