Alarm bells for council as private care wobbles

Forth View Care Centre, Sea Road, Methil
Forth View Care Centre, Sea Road, Methil

FIFE Council says it shares concerns over the financial turmoil engulfing Britain’s biggest private care home company, Southern Cross.

However, the local authority is pressing ahead with talks with the private and non-profit sectors over the future of its own care home stock.

The council has been urged to think again about its controversial plans to shut 10 properties under its management – including Methilhaven Home in Methil and Ladywalk in Anstruther – and replace them with purpose-built accommodation run by the private or voluntary sector.

The pleas came after Southern Cross, which has a care facility in Methil, warned it faced a “critical financial condition” with losses of £311 million in the six months to March 31.

The firm has secured a short-term reduction in its rent payments, designed to create a “summer platform” in which the firm and its key stakeholders “can agree an appropriate restructuring of the company’s affairs”.

Around 60 residents are thought to be at the Forth View Care Centre in Methil’s Sea Road – although Southern Cross did not say how many staff worked there – while the company has six other premises in Fife. It hoped a “critical mass of landlords” would support its plans, on which a further statement was expected in July.

Councillor Tim Brett, chair of Fife Council’s social work and health committee, said the council was very concerned about individuals and families, but it did not think Southern Cross’ difficulties would precipitate the closure of all its homes.

Cllr Brett said Fife was fortunate to have “a mix of care providers, large and small”, while around 85 per cent of the Kingdom’s care facilities – and over 2000 people – were looked after by the private or not-for-profit sector.

The position with Fife’s care service had not changed, he told the Mail. “We believe we provide excellent care in our 10 care homes but currently, some are showing signs of age and don’t have all have the modern facilities we think residents should enjoy.”

The cost of upgrading them was much more than the £40 million previously estimated and the council could not go on ignoring it – which Labour had done completely, said Cllr Brett.

“We do have interest from private providers and will be going out to tender in the summer. By the autumn, hopefully we will have a programme for replacement – maybe not all 10 homes, but a number of them.”

Fife’s Labour leader, Councillor Alex Rowley, called on Fife Council to reconsider in light of the financial difficulties and last week’s message from Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, that the crisis should sound a “cautionary note” to councils contemplating privatisation of care services.

Cllr Rowley’s Labour colleague, Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Claire Baker, added the First Minister’s expression of reservations made the position of Fife SNP councillors on the issue untenable.