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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Care Home Closure Decision is Postponed

Councillors have postponed making a decision on closing seven care homes across Northumberland - leaving the redundancy payments of care workers at risk.

Members of Northumberland County Council voted 27 to 23 to delay a decision to close authority-run care centres in Amble, Bedlington, Blyth, Ponteland, Hexham, Haltwhistle and Prudhoe until their next meeting on November 4.

But the delay could see the redundancy payments of workers halved, as new regulations coming into effect on October 1 will reduce the payouts giving to staff.

At least 25 out of the 51 remaining workers – who have expressed in interest in voluntary redundancy and are under retirement age – will see their entitlements halved by the delay, while the rest will see complex changes brought in before they can accept their payoffs.

Conservative and Labour councillors joined forces to defer making a decision on the issue, defeating a recommendation by the Liberal Democrat administration that the closures should be approved now as part of moves towards a more personalised system of adult care.

Councillors said they hope the delay will allow time for expressions of interest from potential alternative providers in taking over and keeping open the day centres in Amble, Bedlington and Blyth.

But Tory and Labour councillors were accused of a "political scuppering exercise" by Lib Dem leaders, and of prolonging the uncertainty for users of the seven centres.

An amendment supported by the Conservatives and Labour councillors said the council "notes" the recommendation to close the centres, but the decision should be deferred for Blyth, Bedlington and Amble.

The remaining centres will still face the axe on November 4.

Conservative leader Peter Jackson said: "The Council has to be clear with residents about the exact arrangements that it is proposing and we are sure that there is still a great deal of confusion with the public about what the current proposals will mean to them."

Executive member for adult care Coun Simon Reed said: "There is nothing to be gained from delaying this process, other than satisfying the egos of a few politicians.

"All this does is cause delay and further uncertainty for users, staff and the wider community."

Closing the centres is part of a move to 'personalised support', where older people would be given their own budgets to help them choose their social activities, which may include making use of day centres run by other private or voluntary organisations.

Labour Coun Deidre Campbell said: "We are not talking about older people winning the lottery when they receive these so-called 'personalised budgets'.

"It's £35 a week, and that will not stretch that far if it is used to pay to attend similar facilities."

Source: News Post Leader