Why did Wirral Council’s Cabinet recommend closure of Girtrell Court despite a protest against closure and opposition from the trade unions?
There was a protest outside Wallasey Town Hall before Wirral Council’s Cabinet meeting on Monday morning. One of the decisions at that Cabinet meeting was to recommend to a meeting of all councillors (which will be on the 3rd March 2016) a budget for Wirral Council for 2016-17. The protest was about a proposal to recommend to close Girtrell Court. Pictures of the protest are below (each photo should link to a higher resolution image).
When it came to the public meeting itself, despite the divider between Committee Room 1 and Committee Room 2 being open, it was standing room only. I would guess that people who turned up just before the meeting was about to start would have been turned away. I wasn’t the only broadcast media there, there was also Bay TV Liverpool filming the meeting.
Video footage of the Cabinet meeting (filmed by myself) can be viewed below and the papers for this meeting can be found on Wirral Council’s website.
Cabinet (Wirral Council) 22nd February 2016 (Meeting to decide on recommendation on 2016/17 Budget)
The agenda items most people were there for were agenda items 7 (Budget Consultation Findings) and item 8 (Council Budget). These start at the 3 minute 44 second point in the video above (item 7 Budget Consultation Findings) and the 5 minute 53 second point in the video above (item 8 Council Budget).
The first union representative to speak on the Council Budget item was Alan Small of UNITE (pictured below in the foreground).
Alan Small of UNITE said this on Girtrell Court, “Thanks very much, Alan Small from Unite the Union.
First of all let’s start off with the proposal for Girtrell Court. I’ve said this before Christmas and I’ll say it again. I can’t believe I’m sitting here even talking about this proposal. I think it’s a shame that we are.
For the sake of saving £155,000 for the in-year saving in 16/17. I’ve said it before again, that’s equivalent to some people’s salaries for twelve months in this room.
There’s people in this room who are, who’ve got loved ones who attend Girtrell Court. There’s two separate issues here. I’m representing members of our trade union and UNISON colleagues. There are forty staff up for compulsory redundancy and also it’s a moral issue. The people who actually use Girtrell Court, we’re talking about the pledges 2020 pledges. One of those pledges is protecting the vulnerable people of Wirral. I can’t think of anybody more vulnerable at this time than the service users of Girtrell Court.
I think it’s a sad day if you pass this proposal, I think we should be looking after the people of Wirral. These parents and carers have had conversations with and I’ve sat in meetings with them and they’re absolutely terrified of what the future holds for their loved ones.
You’ve seen the lists of the independent sector alternatives. Most of them aren’t satisfactory. Most of them are for elderly care, people over sixty-five years of age. We have a wide range of people who use Girtrell Court and the future’s pretty scary for these families. I think we should reconsider the proposal and not take it forward. ”
Paddy Cleary of UNISON had this to say at the meeting, “Thanks Phil. Thanks once again for allowing me time to speak today. I address you on behalf of our members, our members at Girtrell Court, our members at the libraries, our members in leisure centres and our members in general.
We’ve had some meaningful consultations these last few months, but in some areas, the Girtrell Court proposal included, UNISON cannot understand why a Labour-led administration accepted and implemented the officer proposal.
An officer proposal that still has many grey areas and unanswered questions and one that would just save £155,000 from next year’s budget line.
This is a Labour-led Authority that has pledged to help the most vulnerable in our society. Closing this facility will not and does not protect some elements of that group ie the users. It makes a mockery of that pledge!
Make no mistake, these challenging times the Conservative government are driving a juggernaut through the public sector. Our revenue grant will end, we’ve not been offered recent protection offered to the more affluent Tory boroughs of this world.
That aside, you the Cabinet Members are accountable to the people of Wirral. The people of Wirral have come out in support of this campaign to prevent the closure of Girtrell Court. We will today lodge a petition of over 3,000 signatures from users and staff and the general public who I might add are somewhat shocked that this proposal is even being considered.
This is an in-house adult social care service and once it is gone it will be gone forever.
We simply cannot allow the expertise and dedication of over forty staff that face compulsory redundancies from a Labour led Authority walk away from or walk out of that door without the actual proof that a saving can be achieved.
Councillor Chris Jones, I hear the Leader himself this morning on local radio has stated alternative provision will be as good if not better than that offered at Girtrell Court.
We ask and have done consistently for proof of this.
Can you as Cabinet Members evidence that all users have that option? If you can’t you simply can’t close this facility.
Comprehensive research has been undertaken by some of the carers and families. It is clear the provision is not available to the level they receive now, if it’s available at all!
The impact this is having on them and will have on them going forward is heart breaking. Assessments for all users have been taking place since the option was mooted. Some have not been assessed for over ten years. How can you quantify a saving when you do not know what provision will be needed for these people?
The savings may be achieved from Girtrell Court cost centre, but what would, what remains is the Council Budget as a whole. It’ll have a knock on effect to the savings further down the line.
There are significant holes in the financial calculations assumptions. The Department is to monitor over £300,000 in corporate recharges will be a saving to the department but not to the Council.
Also missing from the figures, is five people currently live in that premise. The cost of alternative provision is up to £100k per a person per a year. These two figures alone are greater than any saving proposed by the Department and that’s without going into detail about the figures.
You’ve seen only last week the Care Quality Commission inspection into Meadowcroft. Although I’m not saying any facilities that users could be forced to use without these products, it clearly shows the anxiety that they’re facing when the business is not provided directly from the local authority.
The savings targets are optimistic, more than the average continually use. They’ve actually used over £9 million worth of reserves to balance our books this year.
At a time when the users, their families, the public and staff see furniture getting delivered for £60,000, see strategic directors, ok all above-board leaving with £250,000 packages, it just doesn’t sit right with people!
Some of the other consultations we’ve had around our library services that we provide, we’ve had to walk away from. We have not seen them as meaningful. There is no actual evidence who’s available to look at these library services, who’s interested in taking these on. We walked away from consultation.
We’re not one to bang our head on the drum. We understand totally what people are facing out there and we understand the pressures that were faced for the Council. But our library provision needs to be looked at properly.
To put it into the voluntary sector, there’s no clear evidence who was interested. The soft market testing was withdrawn. It was clearly a shocking exercise to put our staff in that one to one consultation. We need you to drop these two proposals in the meantime and thank you for your time today.”
Cabinet decided to drop the proposals for:
a) ending the Welfare Rights Unit (a projected saving of £106,000),
b) re-provision of the library service (a projected saving of £203,000),
c) changes to terms and condition for Council staff (a projected saving of £1.2 million),
d) the Black and Minority Ethnic Health Improvement Service (a projected saving of £53,000) and
e) On Line Counselling (a projected saving of £25,000).
However Cabinet voted to recommend the proposed saving to close Girtrell Court. This recommendation will be was discussed at a further public meeting of all sixty-six Wirral Councillors (as all councillors have responsibility for budgetary matters) on the 3rd March 2016 starting at 6.00 pm in the Council Chamber at Wallasey Town Hall, Brighton Street, Seacombe, CH44 8ED.
Due to the size of the UNISON petition referred to above, there will a separate debate at that meeting on the 3rd March on that petition.
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