THE takeover of Fife’s council-run care homes is set to go ahead after the chairman of the committee that made the controversial decision comfortably survived a vote of no confidence.
Opposition councillors had challenged Councillor Tim Brett, chair of the social work and health committee, claiming that he should be held accountable for the Liberal Democrat/SNP administration’s ‘ill-conceived decisions and failures’ in relation to social work services for the elderly and vulnerable.
But at a full meeting of Fife Council last Thursday, a call for his immediate resignation was conclusively defeated amid accusations of ‘posturing and scaremongering’.
The lengthy and often stormy debate was the latest chapter in the row over Fife’s care homes, which began last October when the social work committee cast doubt over the future of the Kingdom’s 10 local authority-run facilities, including North Eden House in Cupar.
With the administration facing a budget deficit of around £34 million, the committee decided that they could not afford to implement an agreement made by an all-party working group two years earlier to replace the homes.
Instead, they agreed to transfer them to the private or not-for-profit sector, prompting dismay among relatives and carers and sparking a political war of words.
A Save North Eden House Group was set up and a petition bearing some 4000 names was handed over, but the controversial decision was rubber-stamped by a single vote margin at a meeting on February 1 attended by just 11 committee members.
Outraged Labour councillors and their allies, including Cupar Independent Bryan Poole, demanded a special meeting of the full council after accusing the administration of tampering with the policy set out in 2008 when it was agreed that Fife Council should remain as a direct provider of residential care.
They claimed that it rendered the motion incompetent and argued that the decision taken on February 1 had no ‘moral authority.’
Then came the ‘meeting that never was’ on February 22, when North Eden campaigners and others gathered at Fife House expecting a debate, but instead but were left open-mouthed when the meeting was halted minutes after it had begun because of a procedural hitch.
It emerged that a standing order had to be suspended first, but the Opposition failed to get the necessary support.
At last Thursday’s meeting, the small Conservative group, who are unashamedly in favour of privatising care homes, apologised to the other Opposition councillors for having been ‘caught napping’ and not helping them make up the numbers, but they also tabled a motion calling for a full debate on the issue, saying that the events of February 22 had damaged the reputation of the council and democracy in Fife.
That motion too was defeated, with councillors voting along party lines.
Leader of the administration Peter Grant blamed Labour for what many considered to be the fiasco of February 22, saying that they had given people ‘misleading, inaccurate information’ and created false expectations that they knew could not be fulfilled.
He accused the Opposition of ‘posturing and scaremongering’ over the issue and asked who had been responsible for leading people to believe that North Eden House would close.
Councillor Poole said it was ‘disappointing’ that such an allegation should be made in the council chamber and called on Councillor Grant to withdraw it.
He said that he and the Save North Eden Group had been told by officials that there was no capacity for accommodating residents in north east Fife but they could be moved elsewhere in the Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Councillor Brett stressed that there were currently more than 2000 people living in homes run by the private or not-for-profit sector in Fife and only around 300 in council-run facilities.
He gave an ‘absolute guarantee’ that there was no difference in the level of care the residents received as they were all inspected by the Care Commission.