FURIOUS campaigners have branded a consultation into the future of Fife’s care homes as a ‘farce’ after privatisation plans were pushed through despite overwhelming opposition.
Members of the group set up to save North Eden House in Cupar described the exercise as a ‘complete waste of time’ after the controversial proposals were rubber-stamped by councillors on Tuesday.
They accused the SNP/Liberal Democrat administration of having already made up their minds before embarking on the consultation, which showed that 77 per cent of respondents did not wish council-run homes to be handed over to the private sector.
The council chamber at Fife House was packed with members of the public when the administration’s motion to privatise the Kingdom’s 10 care homes were approved by just six councillors and by a margin of one.
Only 11 of the committee’s 15 members were present at the meeting — six representing the Lib Dems or SNP and a five-strong opposition comprising four Labour councillors and an Independent, leading to accusations that the vote was undemocratic.
Afterwards Ann Brown, one of the founders of the Save North Eden Action Group, said: “The group has worked very hard in trying to convince Fife Council that our preferred option was for the council to continue to care for our elderly and vulnerable family members.
“The consultation report clearly indicated that the majority of people felt this way but Fife Council has ignored our views, which puts into question the validity of the entire consultation process.
“We are extremely disappointed at what is in essence a political decision — not a morally sound one.
“Our thoughts are also with the staff who are now faced with an uncertain future.”
At a public meeting in Cupar last week, the group had presented committee chairman Tim Brett and leader of the administration Peter Grant with a petition bearing almost 4000 signatures calling for the home to continue to be run by the local authority.
They fear standards of care will drop if its operation is taken over by the private or not-for-profit sector, or that their loved ones will be forced to move elsewhere.
Cupar’s Independent councillor Bryan Poole, while not a member of the social work committee, was given five minutes in which to speak on behalf of the campaigners at Tuesday’s meeting and made an impassioned plea to councillors to put aside their party allegience and delay the decision to allow for alternative options and more detailed costings to be explored.
The future of Fife’s care homes first came under the spotlight more than two years ago when a cross-party review group agreed that a programme of replacing them should begin to bring them up to modern standards.
But at Tuesday’s meeting the administration ran into trouble with its first motion because it failed to mention that it was also agreed at that time that the work should be done ‘in house’.
Labour leader Alex Rowley moved unsuccessfully to have the matter referred to the full council on the basis that the motion was ‘incompetent,’ but Councillor Brett argued that things had changed since then and the council could no longer afford to replace them all.
The North Eden Group and their supporters applauded Councillor Rowley when he declared that the administration were ‘using the fear of recession as an opportunity to privatise care homes’ and that their stance was ‘an affront’ to the 600 or so who had taken part in the consultation.
After the meeting a dismayed Councillor Poole said the committee had effectively just made all the council’s care home staff redundant and said that the decision had rendered the consultation ‘meaningless.’
“It was clear they had already made up their minds,” he said.
Meanwhile, the campaign group thanked everyone in Cupar who had supported their cause and vowed to fight on ahead of the full council meeting on March 3 at which the decision is due to be ratified.
However, opposition councillors have called for an emergency full council meeting before then to debate the issue.