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News and Comment September 2012

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28 September (Part 3) - Adults’ Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting

Councillor Eileen PallenI arrived 15 minutes early to find councillor Eileen Pallen already occupying the chairman’s position ready to engage in some good natured banter about whether I might be better off at the General Purposes Committee meeting. I declined her kind offer as that meeting did not offer the obvious attraction of councillor Val Clark’s presence. In the event I drew the short straw as General Purposes was all over by 19:55 and Adults’ Services dragged on until 21:40. Dragged being the operative word. What is more, councillor Val Clark’s questions were no more silly than anyone else’s. No that is not very fair. Val Clark’s questions were among the most intelligent and perceptive ones, outclassed in my opinion only by councillor Chris Ball (Labour).

Alongside chairman Pallen was a new Deputy Director in post only six months. Because of that I will refrain from mentioning his name, maybe being the new boy is sufficient excuse for a performance I felt to be floundering waffle. Fortunately his capable deputy, Malcolm Bainsfair, was on hand to answer questions. In my view all the council officers should be congratulated on answering questions at all. They are often multi-faceted and long-winded; the officers must have better memories than I do.

AlertsThe early stages of the meeting established that the number of alerts flagged up about vulnerable adults has gone up by 46% in the past year and “we do struggle with registered providers as we have no powers except not to spend any money with them. We rely on providers to get a grip”. It sounded very like ‘once the contract is in place we are stuffed’. Councillor Val Clark asked why the number of alerts was steeply up and was told it was due to better reporting. Councillor Stefano Borella wanted to know if there was “staff capacity in the team to deal with it” and was told by the new Deputy Director “there was always enough work to go round but I am not alarmed”.

Councillor Melvin Seymour referred to an earlier comment “there are problems at times” and asked what they were. He was rewarded with examples of carers who are persistently late on duty. Sometimes it doesn’t matter very much but if a patient was a diabetes sufferer the impact might be very different. Councillor Seymour’s waffle alarm failed to go off.

SummaryCouncillor Sybil Camsey said she was unhappy with the Deputy Director’s written summary, it “sounded almost complacent”. The Deputy Director “took her point” and proceeded to wriggle. Councillor Roy Ashmole said he was not enthused by the summary either.

Councillor Val Clark was on the ball when she asked why Adults’ Services were being administratively transferred to Childrens’ Services which (despite Teresa O’Neill’s fairy tales for electoral consumption) were labelled poor by OFSTED. The reasons, it was said, were wrapped up in the fact that Children’s Services were historically much higher profile and had built up “intelligence” and Adults’ Services would benefit from that. Seems odd to me but Val Clark swallowed it.

A brief aside indicated there were disciplinary proceedings on going in connection with the failures in Childrens’ Services. “Could that happen again?” “We can never say never and cannot account for rogue elements”.

EthnicityCouncillor Seymour drew attention to the ethnic mix of those in care - predominantly white. He was told that was because most people in care are elderly and at present the elderly are mainly white.

The Cabinet Member for Adults’ Services, Chris Taylor, then made his report. I caught that he had recruited a Housing Finance Adviser but his approach might have been more appropriate to reading out the Telephone Directory. Just a list of things he may have done related at the gallop. One was that he had closed the Ken Boyce Centre. No I hadn’t heard of it either.

Councillor Borella wanted to know how many Bexley families were going to be affected by the new benefits cuts. “330” said officer David Bryce-Smith. “70% of them in privately rented accommodation”.

Councillor Chris Ball highlighted the danger of putting housing associations under pressure. “We are squeezing people so tight their staff will leave.” Chris Taylor said “there has been no effect so far”. Chris Ball asked “has the quality of service been affected” and the new Deputy Director said “we will manage the contract”. Councillor Ball failed to suppress his laughter. I can’t think why. Maybe he remembered the blog of March last year. Maybe cabinet member Chris Taylor must be added to the ranks of council fibbers.

Councillor Sharon MasseyCouncillor Sharon Massey said the pressure on housing associations had “an upside”. She said that it can affect “the number of people who lived unsupported. We don’t always see what good comes of these things”. Take all the money away then Sharon.

Councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis, having got her breath back from running up stairs after chairing the General Purposes Committee, asked how it was that “people end up in sheltered accommodation when some are in full time employment”. Councillor Chris Taylor said “we need to map out the need”. He added that sometimes a housing association would allow it if they could get back a larger property in exchange. Geraldene said she knew of a couple who sold their house to go to live in sheltered housing because they didn’t like gardening.

Bexley council is changing its housing policy in accordance with new government instructions. David Bryce-Smith said there are currently 10,034 people on the housing waiting list and only 650 movements a year. Bexley is amending its rules relating to who is eligible for public housing. Not unreasonably councillor Chris Ball wanted to know how many people will lose their place on the list. “6,000” replied David Bryce-Smith. Chris said that by his calculations many of the remaining 4,000 would have to wait 20 years to get a house. Nobody disputed the figure. In practice most of the 6,000 taken off the list were never going to get a house anyway.

“What happens to a homeless family who rejects an offer of a house” councillor Ball wanted to know. “Is it goodbye, that’s it?” “Yes” said Bryce-Smith. “One offer discharges our housing duty.”

The new rules mandate the sharing of rooms by same sex children up to age 21, age ten for children of different sex. “21 seems quite old to share a room. Why not 16 or 18?” asked councillor Ball. “That's what the standard allows” said Mr. Bryce-Smith. Stefano Borella asked a question designed to confirm this ruling was chosen by Bexley council and not a central government imposition - and it was Bexley’s.

Chairman Pallen then raced through the remaining four agenda items. No one had any questions about any of them, so she brought the meeting to a close. She didn’t have a great deal to do as chairman, everything was very civilised, but what she did was good enough. Probably even Val Clark could have run this meeting without incident or recourse to Citrine’s ABC of Chairmanship.


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