Call for an end to Fife care home ‘chess’

Politicians have been accused of using elderly people as “pawns” in a game of care home “chess.”

Fife Council’s administration called for a stop to the war of words to allow for a “grown-up discussion” over council-run residential homes.

Councillors on both sides of the argument expressed concern on Tuesday that older people were caught in the middle of political point-scoring, amid suggestions that seven council care homes are at risk of closure with residents transferred to the private sector.

A motion has already been passed that should see the council replace Raith Gates and Appin House in Kirkcaldy with a new build, while another home will be built in Dunfermline to replace Matthew Fyfe. However, the future of the council’s remaining care homes is still up for debate, with the SNP/Lib Dem administration pledging to carry out consultation with a view to replacing the existing provision “as and when suitable alternative accommodation becomes available.”

This week Labour group leader Alex Rowley called on the council to come clean and confirm whether they are proposing to close the seven homes.

He accused the administration of dishonesty by entering into consultation without saying what they were consulting on, and said residents, families and staff needed to know.
‘Game of chess’

Independent councillor Andrew Rodger, who is also campaigning to keep the homes open, said the council was “using the elderly in a game of chess.”

But social work and health committee chairman Councillor Tim Brett said it was “amazing” that the council was being criticised for consulting on the matter. He said, “I believe they would have been the first to attack us if we had not consulted.

“We certainly owe it to families and the people we are looking after to do this and we also have a responsibility to our staff. Let’s have a grown-up discussion and let’s not use elderly people as political pawns in a game because this is far too serious for that.”

Mr Brett said what the council was doing was “quite genuine” and added, “If the Labour group or anybody else have other suggestions we will look at them and look at them seriously.”

He pointed out the council care homes were over 30 years old and did not have the facilities most people would hope to have.

Mr Brett said, “Most of them don’t have en-suite facilities and they are also very short of space for a lot of equipment, such as wheelchairs and lifting equipment, standard in residential homes. It has to be pointed out the previous Labour administration didn’t spend a penny on council care homes.

“They did nothing to upgrade them and made no provision in the capital programme for them. Obviously we had hoped we would be in a position to start to do that and that is still an option for us.

“But unfortunately we are now looking at having to find savings both in the capital budget (£100 million) and the revenue budget.

“One has to ask Labour, if you are not prepared to look at this and want to keep all of our homes open then what other things would you not do?”

Mr Brett said the council had looked at upgrading its homes two years ago via a cross-party working group, and was told by architects and building services staff that it either was not possible or cost-effective.

However Mr Rowley was unconvinced, saying, “I will be pushing them at the council meeting on Thursday.

“Are they proposing to close these homes? Yes or no?”