Row at ‘Tory’ plans for care homes in Carwyn’s backyard

A ROW has broken out in First Minister Carwyn Jones’ own backyard over plans that could result in the privatisation of council-run care homes for the elderly.

Plaid Cymru AM Bethan Jenkins has accused Labour-controlled Bridgend County Borough Council of planning to follow the lead of Conservative councils in England by bringing in private companies to run the homes.

The authority has hired as a consultant Professor John Bolton, who has previously been involved in developing plans to shut care homes in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Bridgend council’s former leader Jeff Jones has pointed out that the budget approved by councillors assumes that a partner will be found, with savings of £200,000 in 2012-13 and £700,000 in subsequent years. Yet the council insists no final decision on the future of its care homes has been taken.

Ms Jenkins, a regional AM for South Wales West, said: “The issue of care home privatisation in Bridgend was first brought to my attention by people living in the Bridgend county borough area during the last Assembly and, as an AM, I followed it up by holding a number of public meetings, arranged with local Plaid councillors, to pass out information as the council was not committed to a consultation.

“What I didn’t expect was a total over-reaction from both council officers and Labour councillors. Let’s get the privatisation issue out of the way. Private companies will be invited to tender. If one wins any contract offered, the homes will be privatised. If it waddles and quacks, then it’s a duck.

“Since then, Labour members in what is the First Minister’s backyard have sought to misrepresent my interest in the matter.”

Referring to an article posted on the Institute of Welsh Affairs’ website by Cardiff West AM Mark Drakeford, Ms Jenkins added: “At the same time, one of the new Labour AMs is writing pieces about how we are doing things differently in Wales when it comes to care homes. Really? As he applauds the local authority for coming to the aid of Southern Cross residents [following the giant care home group’s rent crisis last week], is he aware that the very same council could end up putting those residents back in the hands of a similar company – a Labour council helping to deliver what he calls ‘Thatcherite ambitions’ – and all in the First Minister’s own constituency.”

A council spokesman responded: “Bridgend County Borough Council is committed to delivering adult social care services which are modern, efficient and which enable residents to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible. This is especially important given that research suggests a big future increase in the number of local people aged 75-plus.

“Earlier this year, cabinet agreed in principle to approach partner organisations to discuss how we might manage elements of long term care in the council’s residential and homecare services and help develop a model to meet future needs.

“Our specialist and short term support services are not part of the partnership proposal. However, no decision about whether to pursue a partnership approach has yet been made.

“Ahead of any decision about the proposals, specialist advice has been provided by Professor John Bolton, who has 40 years’ experience of working within the public sector on issues related to adult social care, and who recently completed a piece of all-Wales work on behalf of the Social Services Improvement Agency.

“Additionally, Age Concern Morgannwg has been commissioned to provide independent advocacy support to service users. A series of staff meetings and communication events are also taking place.

“Cabinet is determined to ensure that the future path taken is the right one for service users who already receive an excellent service from our very committed group of care workers.”

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Local Government Association said: “All councils are looking to modernise their provision of residential care for older people. They all have commissioning plans in place and many are looking to develop these in partnership with other agencies.

“The majority of care home provision is already in the independent sector. There are over 1,600 care homes operating in Wales that range from large multinational companies to small independent providers.

“We have a mixed economy of care and this is consistent with national policy.”