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Councillor on Medway Council:
Speech prepared for Social Services Committee

John Ward

Speech for the Social Services Committee meeting on 12th September 2001, if needed

Thank you Mr Chairman.

I believe I have a way forward that will satisfy all those who genuinely wish to serve the needs and wishes of our elderly people here in Medway. I doubt that it will be of any benefit to the little people—of whom there are at least one or two in this Chamber—whose only aim in life is to score political points at my Group’s expense, using anyone and anything to further that aim. It doesn’t matter how tall or big they might be on the outside: it’s what is inside that counts, and they count for very little.

There will always be such small-minded people, of course: I have encountered them many times before, especially during the 22 years or so that I spent working in central Government. They are clearly of no real worth here and can be safely ignored.

Continuing my now-established rôle of myth-buster, I can reiterate this Group’s oft-stated stance that we never wanted to close the Linked Service Centres, and we certainly never wanted such a high savings target in the Best value Review: these are matters of public record, so cannot credibly be denied.

Right: what is the real problem here, and how do we tackle it?

The problem is at Westminster, where Tony Blair and his cronies have decided that they know better than us what our people want and need, completely forgetting that we are the ones who were elected to look after the needs of the Medway Towns, not them. This is our “patch”: we live here and know this area and its residents far better than any central Government possibly could. Yet the Blair Government is attempting to dictate its wishes to us, forcing us down paths we do not wish to take; and the matter before us tonight is a very good example of this…there are many others, by the way.

Despite sometimes flawed leadership, the Best Value Review did, to its credit, attempt to take on board upcoming legislation from Westminster in making its recommendations to this committee in the form of a number of Options. Now, although there is nothing wrong in principle with the concept of larger room sizes and en suite facilities, as are apparently being dictated to us in the new Care Standards, there can be no reason to insist on these in already working situations, where disruption would be caused to those already living in “inadequate” (in Westminster’s eyes) accommodation.

It appears that, not only from the intense reaction to all of this that we have witnessed here in Medway, but also from similar responses up and down the country, the Blair administration is having at least some second thoughts about the stance they have taken.

Last week I visited two of our Linked Service Centres and was very pleased with what I found, though not one bit surprised at that: they are spacious, comfortable, with good facilities, they’re well served by their staff and their residents are very happy with them and have no wish for disruption. We knew that before, of course; but there’s nothing like the pleasure of visiting these places and having it all verified—with bells on!

My proposal is to keep our existing Linked Service Centres exactly as they are, if we possibly can, and fight the Blair dictatorship. Of course, any new facilities built, whether private-sector or public-sector, will need to comply with the new requirements; but that does not invalidate what we have in place already.

Okay, it might still be necessary to change the emphasis of Robert Bean Lodge; but thanks to the pragmatic thinking of Cllr Mrs Ruparel (who also visited the Centres last week) it appears that—even if that should in the event become necessary—there is a way to achieve this without significant disruption to the existing residents and without alienating the staff there: indeed, there are potential opportunities to be grasped. I’m sure that Cllr Mrs Ruparel will be pleased to elaborate, should that be needed.

So, I say we fight: we don’t need the savings (what a ridiculously high savings target the then Labour administration set!) as this Conservative administration has—in our budget, several months ago—set aside the necessary funds to cover the loss of those anticipated savings of around a third of a million pounds; so there’s no problem there.

The campaign so far to save the Centres can be thought of as a practice run, and all those here tonight and out there who truly have the best interests of our elderly residents at heart, rather than their own political agendas, can join together in our fight to keep our existing Centres: the majority of us here in the Council Chamber, those in the Public Gallery, and a host of others around our Towns.

We can join up with other local authorities who are in the same position on this topic as ourselves, and form a real pressure group to have the new legislation either scrapped or—probably more usefully—modified to apply only to new Centres or Homes.

Let’s start to take back control of our local services from those who seek to deny us that right by imposing their will upon us: this is nothing less than a question of—and a battle for—the survival of local democracy in this country.

Now let’s see someone here with a different agenda try oh-so-hard to find a way to scupper this idea.

Thank you.

John M Ward (Councillor, Horsted)