Saturday, 23 May 2009

Sheltered housing wardens: it's a cut, a cut they don't have to make

A lot of the propaganda for cutting Barnet's sheltered housing wardens focused on the 'unfairness' of spending more money on sheltered housing residents than on other elderly people in Barnet. The implication was always that money would be taken from sheltered housing and channelled instead into services that would benefit all of Barnet's elderly residents.

That's not true. Apart from the fact that it would be better to level up spending on the elderly rather than levelling down, the sheltered housing wardens cut is just that... a cut. I've written to the opposition asking them their opinion. I've also been looking again at the council documents.

It's a cut...
On pages 7-10 of the budget headlines 2009/10 you can see the proposed efficiencies/budget reductions/budget increases for adult social services. Under budget reductions you will see the proposed cut of £950,000 for sheltered housing. Under budget increases you will not see any proposed increase in spending on services for the elderly. That's because there isn't one. The sheltered housing wardens cut is a cut to services for the elderly, pure and simple.

Another document: on page 106 of the "Complete agenda and report pack" for the Cabinet meeting of 23 February (accessible here), scroll down to 'Service reductions' - there again is the sheltered housing cut. Page 107 shows a reduction in spending on 'Supporting People', which includes sheltered housing, compared to last year of £995,400. Overall, spending on 'older adults (over 65s)' will go down from £50,274,970 in 2008/9 to £48,436,250 in 2009/10, a reduction of £1,838,720.

I have had to revise this issue because of the confusion around it, even among campaigners for retaining wardens. At this late stage in the day it ought to be impossible for anyone to be in any doubt about what is proposed. But still we are.

That's why it was so wrong to cancel the May residents' forums: we had been going to put questions exactly clarifying these points to councillors and council officers, but we were prevented from doing so.

Again, the May council meeting had no space for public questions so gone was another chance to clarify matters. On the eve of Barnet's Tory councillors taking their decision, Barnet residents are still not sure what is being proposed. Is that deliberate? I don't know. Well, whether it's deliberate or merely unfortunate, I know that it's plain wrong.

It's a cut they don't have to make...
Revising the documents again, I am reminded that the council doesn't have to make this cut at all! The Cabinet passed the budget headlines at its meeting in February, but it included a contingency, based on the lower than expected inflation rate, in case, after consultation, they decided not to make the cut.

On page 8 of the "Cabinet's Report to Council Meeting on 3 March" (accessible here) it explains:
Consultation on Sheltered Accommodation and Welfare Rights Service

Extensive consultation on the proposal for sheltered accommodation had started on 9 February 2009. The results of this consultation, together with Welfare Rights Consultation, would be presented to Cabinet when completed for full consideration and no decision will be confirmed pending the results of the consultation. However, whilst there was no change to the Budget Headline savings of £0.95m and £0.18m, the £1.4m central contingency provision provided by the 0.5% reduction in inflation would be available if these savings were not implemented and no alternative proposals could be identified.
Yes, to reiterate, they don't have to make this cut at all. You can still join the campaign to make them see sense and drop the proposal, email to get in touch.

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