Fears raised over Highland care home plan

Fears have been raised that Highland Council is backtracking on its commitment to build five new care homes for the elderly.

The council has deferred sending out tender documents for the homes pending the preparation of a business case.

Councillors were assured that it would not lead to the halting of the £30m scheme altogether.

At the same meeting, councillors also voted through £8m of savings that will lead to 70 job losses.

The care homes are due to be built in Inverness, Fort William, Muir of Ord , Tain and Grantown on Spey.

But at the council meeting on Thursday afternoon, councillors agreed to delay its care home building programme for three months.

The council said a review of the business case for each home would be undertaken by its directors of social work, housing and property and finance, which would be completed by March 2010.

In recommending a deferral, Councillor David Alston, the council’s budget leader, said the decision to commit to the construction of five new homes was taken at a time when there was an assumption that budgets would grow year on year.

He said: “We are facing a quite different future, and it would be a dereliction of duty if we did not fully scrutinise these major spending proposals.

“The proposal today is not about taking decisions on the care homes. We are seeking a delay to prepare a business case on each of the homes. We are not pre-judging the outcome.”

The chairman of the Highland Senior Citizens Network Ian MacNamarra – who attended the meeting – said he feared the move was a first step towards privatisation.

Further cutbacks

He said: “I think one can’t help but be left with the feeling that the economic recession is being used almost as a Trojan horse by those councillors who were probably never in favour of the local authority maintaining and running the five new care homes.

“We are very suspicious that this is the first step to privatising the homes.

“We are also a little bit cynical that you can design a business case to give the answer you want.”

Councillors also voted for the £8m of savings, which is to affect four of the council’s smaller departments and will be phased in over the next three years.

Further cutbacks are likely to be announced in the new year when the ruling coalition unveils its plans for the budgets of the transport, social work and education departments – which employ many more staff and provide a variety of front line services.