Closure of Birmingham day centres is tough but necessary decision
Modernisers in politics are rarely respected in their own lifetimes, so Sue Anderson, the Birmingham cabinet member for adults and communities, must be hoping that the social services change agenda she is driving through with characteristic toughness earns respect at some stage in the future.
Since 2004 Coun Anderson has put in place a closure plan for all council-run old people’s homes, agreed to phase out meals on wheels provision and last night announced the closure of two underused day centres.
Birmingham will move fairly swiftly over the next few years from hugely expensive and inefficient public provision of social care to far greater reliance on commissioning services from the independent and voluntary sectors.
Not only is this in line with government policy, a Labour government it should be noted, it is the only realistic way to concentrate limited financial resources on those most in need among a fast-growing older population many of whom have complex physical and mental health needs.
Coun Anderson’s latest decision, to close day centres in Perry Barr and Northfield, will not be popular and are bound to cause alarm among carers however carefully alternative provision is put into place.
Opportunities are already presenting themselves for her political opponents to make capital out of this, with Labour leading the predictable allegation that Coun Anderson is cutting services and has not consulted properly.
But the position Coun Anderson finds herself in now is largely the fault of failure to face up to the need for change during 20 years of Labour rule in Birmingham, when proposals very similar to those being forced through now – moving from outdated institutional care to closer working with voluntary sector providers – were kicked out time and again by a combination of left-wing councillors, trade unions and pressure groups.
The proof of Coun Anderson’s actions, of course, will be whether she is correct in saying that most social services clients, be they young or old, disabled or physically active, want far greater choice and have no wish to be told by the council what is best for them.
The move toward individual budgets, again a government initiative, will for the first time allow thousands of vulnerable people in Birmingham to choose a package of care that suits them.
If the modernisers are right, these people will vote with their feet to move away from one-size-fits-all day centres and residential homes in favour of a wider range of more fulfilling activities.
And the cash savings generated will enable the social services budget to be targeted far more effectively.