Monday, 8 June 2009

Barnet's Conservative Cabinet swings the axe on sheltered housing

A quick report from the Cabinet meeting tonight. In short, as we feared they would, Barnet’s Conservative Cabinet voted to cut the sheltered housing wardens, saving the council a fairly paltry £400,000 but at a high social cost.

Council Leader Mike Freer dealt in his characteristically graceless manner with a lot of angry voters: his mantra on these occasions is becoming, well, if you don’t like it, you can vote us out next year. Mike “cross-in-a-box-once-every-four-years” Freer’s vision of democracy.

We held a lively protest that got a lot of press coverage – the assault on sheltered housing is, belatedly, becoming a national issue. You can see the BBC London news report here.

Mike Freer is interviewed and says: “The council’s finances are actually quite robust, so that’s not the driver. The driver is predominantly about making a service fit for purpose. ...we have about 15 hundred settings, a thousand of them already have a floating, visiting warden, only one third have a resident warden.”

If financial considerations are not the driver, why is one of the main points in the consultation document:
Barnet Council is proposing three major changes:
To reduce the amount of funding paid at present for services in sheltered housing and similar locations. This would contribute toward reductions in expenditure that are necessary for Barnet Council to set a balanced budget for next year....

Proposal 1 – reduction in funding for support services in sheltered housing
The council has to make savings of £12 million next year, and it proposes that services for older people in Sheltered Housing should contribute £950,000 to this total....

The rest of the savings of £950,000 each year would be used by the council to enable services for older people in Barnet to be maintained. Next year, the council will have to make savings of £12m in order to make sure expenditure is in line with income.
In the document, there is a lot more, an awful lot more, along those lines. In short, in the news clip Freer is not telling the truth about why they want to make this cut.

They say it is so that they can spend more money on other elderly residents in Barnet – show us the figures. Vague promises about extending the residual sheltered housing support service to other Barnet elderly are just that: vague promises. We have consistently called for levelling up of services, not levelling down: sharing a far smaller budget among many more people is no way to increase 'fairness'.

The sheltered housing warden cut is about saving Barnet council money; the rest is justification. I could find a reason to make cuts, if I wanted to make cuts. The point is I don't. Freer goes on and on about how central government’s settlement for Barnet is too low: then lead the community in a fight for more money. And stop justifying and making cuts!

3 comments:

Rog T said...

Vicki,

They may have swung the axe, but the tree hasn't come down yet. All this means is that we've got an even harder fight on our hands.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Did Freer actually use the words "if you don't like it, you can vote us out"? He hopes to be ensconced in Westminster by the time of next year’s council elections and won't care about the mess he will leave behind on the council.

The council’s policy on wardens is not simply misguided. It is wicked.

vickim57 said...

David,

it's what he said, although he might have used words like 'you will have your chance to show what you think at the ballot box next year'. Form aside, the content was uncontestably that.