Monday, 8 September 2008

Sons of Rest in Sandwell

I went along to a scrutiny panel for health and older people. A decision by Sandwell council to close three of these premises and ask the remaining ones to become self funding had been “called in” by the Liberal Democrats. The result of the meeting was that a recommendation was made that the cabinet member be asked to delay the decision for further consultation. The best of a bad job I thought but it gives a little time to regroup. The meeting was very well reported by Express & Star. I don’t believe the Sons of Rest position is sustainable, bearing in mind the costs and numbers involved and the privileged conditions they get compared to other groups. They only appeal to a small number and this is reducing year on year. There is a bigger picture though that does need to be addressed. A couple of years ago Sandwell had a Select Committee for older people and I gave a lot of evidence to that committee. There are two publications related to that worth mentioning Living Well in Later Life and All Our Tomorrows which was the final report approved by full council. The ethos of both these documents is that the council is committed to trying to improve the lives of its older people. Recent decisions by the council suggest that they are ignoring the recommendations of the report. I refer to 1) massive increases in charges for meals on wheels, 2) introduction of week day charges for older people to Sandwell Park Farm, 3) introduction of week day charges for car parking at the farm and now 4) the closure of SOR premises. A systematic reduction in facilities for older people and not in line with their stated aims.
I don’t believe that the council officers who have “negotiated” with SOR have done it well; my experience was that they talked at them rather than tried to involve them. The SOR groups themselves though do not sell themselves well and they have to face the fact that what they offer is only applicable to a shrinking few. There is a debate/consultation that needs to be carried out as to what the real needs of our older people are. The premises SOR use are only used once per week in most cases so there is ample opportunity for looking at other uses for the buildings and for talking with other voluntary groups of older people and I hope they will take this opportunity to do that in a constructive and open way. I in the meantime will be lobbying my councillors to support the political aspects of the decision and challenge any more that reduce facilities for older people. One worrying aspect from this meeting was the fact the chair would not allow me as an interested member of the public to speak although she was prepared to let another member of the public present speak, until I complained. I should like to know what protocol was at work here. I was very impressed with the contribution of both my councillors who were present at the meeting. One of the proposed closures is on their patch and neither had been informed of the decision before it was public knowledge in the press. This is another example of where the cabinet members are failing the local member in getting the message across. I think at the very least Cll. Hosell should be asking for an apology and if this does become a good news story he should have it first.

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