Provost Moves To Halt Care Homes Sell-Off

An alternative plan to halt the controversial sale of six Highland Council care homes is being proposed by the Provostof the city of Inverness. Bill Smith is calling for the establishment of a charitable company to operate care homes which would be developed with sheltered homes for the elderly. Provost Smith claims the scheme is winning wide support from his colleagues and provides a way out of handing the homes over to the private sector.

“I think it is feasible,” he declared yesterday. “What is being suggested with a community-based establishment is that as much money as possible will benefit clients directly. If we sell the homes, we will lose money spent on the clients – the private sector will require its cut.”

In May the Provost came under fire when he took part in a march protesting against the sell-off but then appeared to make a U-turn by voting to put them out to tender. He defended his actions at the time by saying he had a commitment from the council to study the cost of keeping the homes in public ownership, and he believes the new proposal justifies his stance.

The development comes ahead of a meeting of the local authority’s care home sub committee on Friday at which councillors will be updated on progress of the controversial sell-off including the results of a market consultation. This found strong interest from private firms and a preference among interested parties for all homes to be sold as a single package.

A separate report reveals serious doubts among officials about Provost Smith’s idea, highlighting the potential difficulties raising funds and the tight timescales.

‘The amount of capital required to build or buy, and equip even one home of 30 beds will be likely to be over £2 million,’ it states. However, national politicians rallied behind the Provost’s proposals last night. Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Rob Gibson believed any creative ideas to keep homes in the public sector should be considered. “Councillors should give considerable thought to community homes and other solutions of that sort which keep control in the hands of local people,” he said.

Mr Gibson added that, rather than putting obstacles in the way, Highland Council should be looking at solutions. “So, £2 million has to be found,” he said. “They should be saying, ‘how can we help find that?'”

His party colleague Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, was among 300 people to march at the weekend in protest at plans to sell a residential care home at Fort William. “Provost Smith’s proposal is a sensible one, worthy of serious consideration,” he said. “However, in their decision on 4th May, councillors already decided that options such as these must be thoroughly analysed by officials – but over the last two months I have spoken to no one who has heard anything about the import of that decision.”

Dr Ian Macnamara, chairman of the Highland Senior Citizens’ Network – which is opposed to the sell-off of the council care homes – feared the drive towards privatisation may now be unstoppable. “The council seems to have rolled out its preference,” he said.