Just hope you never grow old and need a care home in Bucks

25 November 2017

So the budget’s over and there’s no money for – well just about everything really except Brexit.  Certainly nothing for social services. Nothing for adult social services where the Local Government Association estimates a national funding gap of nearly £6 billion by 2020. 

The LGA also estimates that at least an extra £1.3 billion is needed immediately, and then every year, to stabilise the “fragile” provider market for adult social care.  

I mention this because one of Bucks County Councils’ Select Committee is being given a presentation by one of its officials on Tuesday about care homes.

In the middle of the presentation, there is a list of challenges.  One of them is

“Ongoing debate nationally regarding substantive funding for social care and sustainability of independent sector provider market”. 

Translated this means “Unless there is a lot more money for social care, private sector companies providing the care are not going to make a profit and will walk away or even go bust.    

This is, you might think, pretty serious.  However, there’s no explanation of what this means for Bucks. 

So here’s some questions the Select Committee might like to ask the official:-

-          Are there a significant number of private sector care homes in Bucks at risk of closing down because they can’t make a profit or even at risk of going bust?

-          If so, why?

-          If so, how many care homes are at risk and how many residents are in these care homes?

-          Does BCC own and manage any care homes?

-          What contingency plans has BCC got for ensuring residents will continue to get care if and when private sector provision of care collapses?

-          Can the Select Committee have a copy of the risk assessment?

The presentation also includes some interesting information about the quality of care in care homes in Bucks.

31% of care homes in Bucks require improvement or are inadequate.  This is considerably worse than the national average.   (BCC reckon the figure is 26% but that still means 35 care homes need to improve).      

65% of older people in care homes pay for themselves and 5% are paid for by the NHS.  So presumably about 30% of people in care homes are paid for by BCC (or other councils).

So here’s some more questions for the Select Committee to ask:-  

-          How many residents are in care homes in Bucks which require improvement or are inadequate?

-          How many of these residents are funded by BCC?

-          Are residents funded by BCC disproportionately in care homes which do not provide good quality care?

And wouldn’t it make sense, as more and more of us are living longer and needing good quality care, for BCC to invest in care homes for vulnerable people rather than investing £80 million in commercial properties?   Aren’t councils there to look after vulnerable residents rather than pretending to be hedge fund managers?

 

Mr Lidington apparently all in favour of denying compensation to victims of child sexual exploitation

21 September 2017

I blogged on 20 July (below) about some victims of child sexual abuse being denied compensation on the grounds that they had “given consent” to the abuse – even though the legal age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16.   

The Ministry of Justice is ultimately responsible for the guidance which allows the children to be denied this compensation and David Lidington, Aylesbury’s MP, is also Secretary of State for Justice.  He declined to respond when the story broke on Channel 4 news.

One of the readers of that blog wrote to Mr Lidington the same day asking for an explanation.   7 weeks later, an official responded saying:

Child sexual abuse is abhorrent, and it is right that victims can apply for taxpayer-funded compensation awards through the Scheme. The Justice Secretary is fully aware of the concerns raised about how rules of the Scheme work in relation to cases of child sexual abuse, as are the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) that administers the Scheme and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

The CICA has internal guidelines to assist decision-makers in applying the Scheme and its rules in individual cases. The guidelines are intended to make sure that controlling and abusive behaviour is taken into account when handling compensation applications for child sexual abuse, and CICA is urgently reviewing them to ensure they are robust enough to deal with cases where grooming may be a factor.”

According to the Guardian, Mr Lidington also told MPs that the rules would be changed so that victims of child-grooming rings would no longer be refused compensation.

However, it looks like Mr Lidington has broken his promise to MPs.    Because the revised guidelines state that the victims of child sexual abuse can still be disqualified on the grounds that “consent ‘in fact’ is different from consent ‘in law’”.    Even in cases of children, the guidelines say that “where the sexual activity is truly of the applicant’s free will, no crime of violence will have occurred.”

Sarah Champion, Rotherham’s MP, has called the guidelines “despicable” and has called on Mr Lidington to intervene. 

However, I’m left wondering.  The official response says Mr Lidington was “fully aware of the concerns” so surely he would already have seen and approved the revised guidelines. 

So that means he is all in favour of children being denied compensation after they are groomed and repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by groups of men.  He is all in favour of children being denied compensation even after they are brave enough to help the police put the men who sexually exploited them sent to prison.  And are brave enough to help to protect other children from harm.  

 

The guidelines are despicable but so too is Mr Lidington’s failure to change them.

 

BBC 3 counties radio covers scandal of Seeleys House

6 September 2017

The main news item on the breakfast show on 3 counties radio yesterday was the scandal at Seeleys House, where vulnerable adults were subjected to institutional abuse.   Seeleys House was run by Bucks Care, a company set up, owned and funded by Bucks County Council. 

A link to the programme is below; the introduction for the item is at 7 minutes, I am interviewed at I hour 6 minutes and Sheila Norris, a Director at Bucks County Council, is interviewed at 2 hours 15 minutes.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05cpd5q

I would only add the following.

A Council official represented Bucks County Council, not a Councillor.  None of the Conservative Councillors responsible for this scandal choose to be held to account.

Ms Norris admitted that there had been institutional abuse at Seeleys House last year and that the standard of care at Seeleys House still requires improvement.  She couldn’t do otherwise in the light of the evidence.  Despite this, there was no apology to the users of Seeleys House nor to their families.   All Ms Norris could say, on BCC’s behalf, was “it is regrettable”.    

When pushed on the debt incurred by Bucks Care which BCC had to take over, Ms Norris said she did “not recognise” the figures I was quoting i.e. an overall debt up to March 2016 of £2.8 million.  She said the setting up of Bucks Care had “overall not been a huge cost to the Council”.    I don’t know what BCC would regard as a huge cost – but £2.8 million would go some way to improving the care provided to the users of Seeleys House.

I took my figures from accounts provided by BCC and submitted by them to Companies House for the years ending 2015/6 and 2014/5.  I put my figures to BCC last month (with a link to the blog below of 14 August) and asked them to let me know if they were inaccurate.  I had no response.   I will let Ms Norris know the accounts are available and give her a link to my blog.

Ms Norris said she knew nothing about a cover-up by BCC nor about misleading information provided by BCC.  I will let her have a link to my blogs below of 25 August and 16 March.

I like to be helpful.

 

Cover-up of Institutional Abuse at Bucks Care Ltd

25 August 2017

Last Wednesday, the Bucks Herald wrote about a report on institutional abuse at Seeleys House, which provides residential respite for vulnerable adults.  Seeleys House was run by Bucks Care Ltd, a company set up, funded and wholly owned by Bucks County Council (see blogs below).    

This blog is not about the abuse itself – I will return to this later.   It is about the cover-up of the abuse, and about the lack of transparency and independence in investigating the allegations.    

In November 2016, a Large Scale Enquiry was set up by what the report calls “the LSE”.  I have no idea who “the LSE” is but it is chaired by the Head of Safeguarding in BCC.  The LSE monitored the Enquiry and BCC’s Head of Service wrote its report.  

So you have to ask why an Enquiry into allegations of abuse in a company funded and owned by BCC was carried out under the auspices of BCC.   Why wasn’t someone independent of BCC brought in?

In March, the LSE considered the report of the Enquiry and decided it was “satisfied that there is not a further need for an LSE at this current time”.   This is BCC saying BCC was making good progress in tackling the institutional abuse at a BCC centre.  Well it would say that, wouldn’t it?

Throughout this time there was not one word publicly about the allegations of abuse, the Enquiry or its conclusion that the allegations of abuse were substantiated.  Not one word to the public, the media, the users of Seeleys House or their families, or to the Council – although individual Councillors must of course have known about it.   

Even when Councillor Stuchbury, then a Labour County Councillor, asked a series of questions to Councillor Appleyard, the Cabinet Councillor responsible, he was told nothing about the Large Scale Enquiry. 

In June, the report went to the Bucks Safeguarding Adult Board (BSAB).  The Board decided it “did not meet the Board’s expectation or requirement for a detailed evidence based report”.  The Board requested a further report as a matter of urgency to include the Improvement Plan and to “provide specific actions/evidence against which progress has been achieved”. 

It was at this point I learnt of the existence of this report and I asked BCC for a copy.    

In July, BCC refused to provide the report.  Four reasons were given for that refusal:

1.     “An overriding public interest in an independent body (BSAB) not being distracted from their consideration of the information by prior public publication/comment.” 

Why, you may ask, has BCC so little confidence in the robustness and objectivity of the Board?   Isn’t this what democracy is all about?    Isn’t open government about informing the public what is going on and giving them the opportunity to comment?

2.     The information would be made available in the near future.  

This is not true; BCC had no plans to publish this report and nor did BSAB. 

3.     The information that went to the BSAB in June would form part of the information that would go to the Board in August and be published then. 

 

Well this is one way to get round the Freedom of Information Act – but not a very good one.

4. The right under FoI is to information not documents.

Just think about this one.  If the whole point of getting a document is to find out what’s in it, how can you specify the information you need?  Luckily the law allows the public to ask for documents as well as specific information.

This month, I appealed, successfully, under BCC’s internal procedures against the decision not to release the report.  I am happy to send a copy to anyone who asks. 

It was obvious why BCC did not want to release the report.  It substantiates the allegations of institutional abuse at Seeleys House and gives the lie to information previously provided by Councillor Appleyard.      

Meanwhile the Board of BSAB considered the further report it requested.  It is far from the “detailed evidence based report” requested by the BSAB.  It is shorter, considerably less detailed than the report that went to the Board in June and provides no improvement plans.

Moreover, it is a sanitised account - no reference for example to the police investigations at Seeleys House.     

This sanitised version is on the BSAB website – although it takes some finding.  It is also, according to BCC, on BCC’s website - although I can’t find it there.   

That’s how BCC covered up a scandal of institutional abuse.   And it will simply ignore the issue and hope it goes away.    But who knows what else BCC is covering up?     

 

Bucks Care accounts shine a light on BCC’s financial incompetence

14 August 2017

I’ve blogged a number of times about the inadequate services for residential respite provided at Seeleys House for vulnerable adults (see blogs below).  Those services were provided by Bucks Care Ltd, a company set up and wholly owned by Bucks County Council.

The services were assessed as inadequate in November 2016 by the Care Quality Commission and were brought back in house by BCC in December 2016.  BCC then applied for the company to be struck off.

BCC has never issued a statement about Bucks Care so residents have never been told what went wrong or why, nor how much it has cost the taxpayer.   

So I am going to have a go.  I think it important for two reasons. 

First, because vulnerable adults are still not getting the residential respite they are entitled to and plans for their future care are very uncertain.   The scandal continues.

Second, because this scandal illustrates the way in which BCC fulfills its responsibilities – with a lack of compassion and understanding, with a lack of financial competence and professionalism, and with a lack of openness.

This blog is about the money wasted in setting up Bucks Care and contracting out services.  

It’s about the £2.8 million (so far) of financial liabilities from Bucks Care which have to be covered by BCC.   It is important to remember this when BCC says it has no money for providing services to vulnerable people in future.  This £2.8 million could have been spent on providing their care.

It’s also about BCC’s sheer financial incompetence in privatising this service.  To begin with, it couldn’t even get the 2015/16 accounts for Bucks Care to Companies House on time; they were 9 months late.  Then HMRC objected, successfully, to the company being struck off “due to outstanding tax matters”.

Doesn’t engender confidence does it?

It gets worse.  It’s clear that Bucks Care wasn’t doing very well in 2014/15.  By December 2015, BCC had to provide £1 million of bailout money.  So it wasn’t a case of Bucks Care suddenly going belly up – it had been failing financially since it was set up and failing badly since 2015.  And BCC knew this.

So you might think there would have been some rigorous oversight of Bucks Care by BCC. 

However, all it seems to have done is cut the managing director’s salary – from £140,000 to £123,000.  Mind you, £123,000 still seems a lot.  For example, the BCC director responsible for all of adult social care gets a maximum of £105,000. 

And of course £123,000 is way too much for someone presiding over such a financial and contractual disaster.   One of the reasons Bucks Care wasn’t doing so well is because it sub-contracted a substantial chunk of its £8 million contract from BCC and didn’t get a good deal.

There seems no other sign of BCC monitoring Bucks Care’s money.  Indeed we know that Bucks Care was allowed to opt out of the County Council’s finance and human resources business system.  Instead it purchased an alternative financial system which “resulted in reduced visibility of trading performance”.

You can guess what happened.   

In February 2016 the Finance Director of Bucks Care left, followed by the Managing Director in June 2016.  In October 2016, BCC’s Internal Audit was commissioned to carry out an internal audit of the financial systems and controls in place within Bucks Care.  By this time, all it could do was report “limited assurance in all areas” or, as most people would call it, a financial mess.

The outcome is that, up to March 2016, the combined operating loss of the companies was over £1.6 million and the combined financial liabilities were £2.8 million.   

The accounts for 2016/17 are due this September.   I understand the auditors are still working on them.    We will then find out the full financial costs of setting up these companies.

BCC might even issue a statement.  But judging from its past record, it won’t bother telling the residents anything.

 

Did you know Bucks County Council is reviewing all the care packages of vulnerable adults?  No – me neither

29 July 2017

The things that Bucks County Council doesn’t tell its residents are legion.  BCC can (and does) spend hours debating concepts like transformation projects (where no-one knows what transformation BCC is meant to be undergoing or why).  It puts out dozens of press releases congratulating itself – for example on an award for phasing out postal waste permits (whatever they are). 

However, try to find out about a review of all adult care packages in Bucks and there is nothing, but nothing, to be found on BCC’s website.   

And yet it was mentioned as a priority by Councillor Hazell, the Cabinet member for Health and Wellbeing, at a committee meeting last week.  BCC is setting up a Board to make sure that all the adult care packages deliver what individuals need.

When Councillor Hazell was questioned, we found out that there are 6,500-7,000 people with care packages at any one time in Bucks and 12,000-13,000 people who will have a care package during a given year.   Councillor Hazell said it would be a huge task to reassess all these packages. 

Indeed it will.  I don’t know how long the review will take or who is on the Board but, at 12,000 care packages a year, BCC needs to get through 240 a week to complete the task in a year.   That’s about 7 an hour.    Let’s say it takes two hours on average to review a care plan.  This is not excessive given that the individual, relatives and carers will have to be consulted.    That’s 14 staff full-time with no breaks working for a year to carry out the reassessments.   

This would be daunting enough but the idea is not only to ensure needs are met but also to consider new and innovatory ways of meeting those needs.     I don’t know how long it would take to discuss new and innovatory ideas with 12,000 people on an individual basis, but it could double the time of the re-assessment.  So it could take a team of 30 people or so working flat out to complete the re-assessments in a year.

Is my arithmetic wrong? Or is BCC totally and completely unrealistic?  I will ask.  

And will BCC be involving people who have care packages in the review?  Well, Councillor Hazell was a bit fuzzy on that.   People will be consulted on their own packages but it was very unclear whether they would be consulted as a group about the review or even have a representative on the Board.  I think it boiled down to the possibility of a “more strategic conversation with representatives”.  

According to Councillor Hazell, this is not a cost cutting exercise; the revised care packages would be based on individuals’ needs not budget reductions. 

However, this was not quite the way BCC’s Executive Director for Communities, Health & Adult Social Care explained things.  She pointed out that, under the Care Act, care packages did need to set out an individual’s needs but in doing this Councils could, and should, take account of the overall resources available.

So now we know that BCC are carrying out a massive review affecting at least 12,000 vulnerable adults and probably many times this number of relatives and carers.   And not a word to residents. 

And you know, and I know, that the purpose of the review is to make cuts.    

 

Abused children are apparently not a priority for David Lidington

20 July 2017

I have been trying to find out what David Lidington, MP for Aylesbury, believes in for some months now with little success (see my blogs under General Election).  But now we have an issue which might throw some light on his beliefs.

Mr. Lidington is the Secretary of State for Justice, responsible for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and for the guidance given to the Authority on whether to provide state compensation to the victims of child sexual abuse.  

A few days ago, Channel 4 exposed the fact that some victims of child sexual abuse were being denied compensation by the Authority on the grounds that they had “given consent” to the abuse – even though the legal age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16.    

The link to the item is below.

Ministers, including David Lidington, were apparently unavailable to go on the Channel 4 programme but gave Channel 4 a statement from the Authority.  The statement said the guidance, which was prepared in 2012, was being urgently reviewed. 

Meanwhile, victims of child abuse will continue to give evidence against their abusers and help send them to prison.  They can then be refused compensation because they “gave consent” to the abuse, even though they legally couldn’t have given consent.  In some cases they are then asked by the police to help with further prosecutions. 

It is just sickening.

Sarah Champion, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equality has written to the Ministry.  However, there is nothing on the Ministry’s website on the issue and apparently no response yet from David Lidington.

So presumably abused children are not one of his priorities.  

https://www.channel4.com/news/sarah-champion-sexual-abuse-compensation-guidelines-must-be-updated

 

David Lidington asked to step down as Vice – President of Buckinghamshire Mind

6 June 2017

Did you know David Lidington was asked to step down as Vice – President of Buckinghamshire Mind last year because of his misguided and derogatory actions towards ill and disabled people?   No?  Well neither did I - so I thought I would give it some publicity.

One of the people who read my blog on “Who is David Lidington?” (see my General Election page) suggested I look at a press release put out by Buckinghamshire Mind as this provided more information about his beliefs.  

The press release was issued in June 2016 and says the Board of Buckinghamshire Mind asked Mr Lidington to step down as Honorary Vice – President of Buckinghamshire Mind with immediate effect.  This was in the light of him backing cuts to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the main out-of-work benefit for ill and disabled people.

The press release goes on to say “Reducing the amount provided by nearly £30 a week will make people’s lives even more difficult and will do nothing to help them return to work, especially given that there is a relationship between financial difficulties and experience of mental health problems.

“Implying that ill and disabled people will be motivated into work if their benefits are cut is misguided as it fails to take into account the many reasons someone with a mental health problem might struggle to find or stay in employment. It’s also derogatory, because it’s based on the assumption that people with mental health problems are deliberately failing to find work because they prefer to stay on benefits, when actually the vast majority have a very high ‘want to work’ rate.”

Astonishingly I couldn’t find any reference to this request for Mr Lidington to step down in the press so presumably it was not reported.  One might have thought it very newsworthy.  

I would like to say how much I support the actions of Buckinghamshire Mind in speaking out about the impact of the cuts on benefits and making clear their opposition to the way in which a local MP voted.  

Link to the press release is https://www.bucksmind.org.uk/press-release-our-relationship-with-the-rt-hon-david-lidington-mp/

 

If you care about people with disabilities in Bucks, why would you vote anything but Labour?

19 May 2017

People with disabilities often can’t or don’t vote.  It is therefore up to the rest of us – friends or relatives, or simply those who care, to think about them when we vote.

There used to be lobby groups in Bucks for people with disabilities who would speak out publicly and politically about the problems of people with disabilities and would fight to get the problems sorted.  But they seem to have disappeared.   

There are still lots of charities in Bucks for people with disabilities but they are now in the business (and I use those words advisedly) of providing information and support.  They have contracts to do the work previously done by the public service and are therefore dependent on funding from Bucks County Council and other public authorities.  So they don’t lobby any more.

In fact, there seems to be only one Bucks charity for people with disabilities independent of public sector core funding - Bucks Disability Service.  It says “it will not hesitate to act and speak out in defence of disabled people in Buckinghamshire”. 

However, all it says on its website is that the Conservative cuts “are having an impact, often adverse, on disabled people in Bucks.  We believe that many of them will lose financially, and that if they are unable to make up the lost income, there may well be knock-on effects on their ability to live independently, and for other services they use, such as the NHS and social care.”   

So you have to look elsewhere to find out what has happened to people with disabilities under this Government:

-          It has closed Remploy which provided employment to people with disabilities,

-          It scrapped the Independent Living Fund,

-          It cut payments for the disabled Access To Work scheme,

-          It cut the Employment and Support Allowance by £30/week,

-          It presided over a 5-fold increase in sanctions against people on disability benefits,

-           It has brought in a fitness-to-work system which is a scandal and caused untold misery to people with disabilities,

-          It imposed the bedroom tax and

-          It is moving disabled people to Personal Independence Allowance while making the eligibility tougher.  Over half a million people will lose out on this change alone.

I think the treatment the Conservative Government has handed out over the past 7 years to people with disabilities is immoral.   No civilized society should allow its most vulnerable people to be treated in this way, with many left destitute and isolated.

As far as I could see, all the Bucks Conservative MPs have voted for the legislation which underpins this immoral treatment to people with disabilities. 

There is nothing to stop Bucks charities speaking out during the election.  Despite the 2014 Lobbying Act which regulates their political activities, they retain the fundamental right to speak out on issues that further their charitable purposes.  So where are the Bucks charities for people with disabilities?

If you vote for the Conservatives, what more will happen to people with disabilities?  According to its manifesto, “it will deliver a government unafraid to confront the burning injustices of …the stigma of disability discrimination.”… We will build on the proud Conservative record of supporting those with disabilities…. We will get 1 million more people with disabilities into employment over the next ten years….”

In other words, more of the same.

If you vote Labour, people with disabilities will get, according to its manifesto, the restoration of financial and other support.  A Labour Government will repeal the cuts in social security support to people with disabilities through a new Social Security Bill in the first year in office, including:  

-           Increasing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by £30 per week

-          Increasing Carer’s Allowance by £11 to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance

-          Implementing the court decision on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) so that there is real parity of esteem between those with physical and mental-health conditions

-          Scrapping the Work Capability and Personal Independence Payment assessments and replace them with a personalised, holistic assessment process that provides each individual with a tailored plan, building on their strengths and addressing barriers. It will end the privatisation of assessments

-          Ending the pointless stress of repeated reassessments for people with severe long-term conditions.

-          Commissioning a report into expanding the Access to Work programme.

It will change the culture of the social security system from one that demonises people not in work to one that is supportive and enabling.

If you care about the way society supports people with disabilities, why would you vote anything but Labour?

 

Child sexual exploitation in Bucks

7 April 2017

The Bucks Safeguarding Children’s Board published a serious case review today (7 April) into child sexual exploitation in Bucks from 1998 – 2016.  The review is being reported in the media and, as you might expect, its findings are damning; after all, BCC’s Children’s Services were assessed by OFSTED as inadequate in 2014, BCC’s then Chief Executive describing its Children’s Services as one of the seven worst in the country.  The Safeguarding Children’s Board was also assessed as inadequate.   

The review sets out what went wrong, how things have improved and areas where there is still concern.  It makes 14 recommendations.  

The review is not good news for BCC when its Leader, Martin Tett, is attempting to convince voters that BCC has made significant progress with “the improvement journey” of Children’s Services – and is criticising his Tory district colleagues publicly for putting out “misleading information” on Children’s Services and undermining this work. 

Perhaps Councillor Tett might like to read this review and acknowledge that BCC are still failing to protect children from sexual exploitation.   It would be even better if he apologised for failing children in Bucks.

As the review is being reported in the media, I am only going to comment on two issues. 

The first is the timing of publication.  The report was completed in September 2016 but was only published today over 6 months later.  The whole point of a serious case review is to learn lessons and Labour County Councillor, Robin Stuchbury has been pressing for publication for months (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fo_uHN8116M&feature=em-upload_owner).   Without his perseverance, it is doubtful whether the review would have been published at all.  Even so, publication has been delayed until the pre-election period when Tory BCC Councillors cannot be questioned and held to account.  They’re dodging all responsibility.

To make matters worse, even though the review was embargoed for today, the Safeguarding Board, BCC officials and the police held a press conference yesterday.  This meant those responsible for failing our children had the opportunity to put their case to the media without any challenge from the public or political opposition parties - and indeed before anyone else could even read the report.   BCC and the Board really don’t like to be questioned, do they?

The second issue is about funding.  The review points out the difficulty of the funding arrangements for Barnados which provides support for children in Bucks.  Apart from that, not a word about money until right at the end when the review concludes

   … concerns remain about a number of areas, principally the funding of ongoing services that support children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation. This includes support for their families, as well as young people with learning disabilities and mental health difficulties…..

The challenge for the future centres around leadership, continued commitment to multiagency working and joint funding, particularly in a climate of austerity and cutbacks where agencies might be inclined to protect their own spheres of influence and revert to working in silos” 

In other words, the Tory cuts mean there is not enough funding to BCC, the police, the schools, the NHS and charities to protect our children from sexual exploitation.  

Posted by Linda Derrick.  Promoted by Martin Abel on behalf of Linda Derrick at 5 Spencer Road, Aylesbury HP21 7LR      

 

Over half the children looked after by Bucks County Council are sent out of county

 26 March 2017

In September last year, Bucks County Council’s Select Committee on Children’s Social Care considered a report on children who are looked after by Children’s Social Services.  The children are looked after by BCC perhaps because the children’s parents are ill, or the children have been neglected or abused, or because the parents can’t cope.

The report showed that there has been an increase in children who are looked after by BCC.  Since 2009 the number has increased from 330 to 435 children, an increase of 32%.  Nationally the increase has been 14%.   The report did not explain why there has been such a large increase in Bucks. 

BCC’s main concern was that less than half (42%) of the children looked after by BCC are placed within the county’s borders.  This compares unfavourably with other counties in the South East who place 65% of their children within their counties.  BCC place only 54% of its children within 20 miles of where they live compared to other counties in the South East who place 77% within 20 miles.

Some children need to be moved away from their home area but for others it is not necessary and can have a damaging impact.   They lose contact with their friends and families, they have to change schools and do less well than their peer group, and they have less access to specialist services in Bucks. 

It also costs BCC more money in buying the residential care (approximately 60% are placed in privately owned provision) and on longer travel times for staff visiting the children and attending meetings and reviews. 

The report said a number of actions were to be taken to ensure children were placed near to their homes, including increasing foster care.  

A recent meeting again raised the problems of finding suitable placements for children - this time for children who were at risk of sexual exploitation and had to be taken into care.   

The responsible Cabinet Member, Councillor Hazell, told the Select Committee in September that a business case was being developed for a new residential facility to be built in Bucks.  I haven’t heard anything about this business case since so I will ask.

 

Another BCC financial failure; Bucks Care Ltd to be struck off

 16 March 2017

Bucks Care Ltd (see blogs below) was set up and wholly owned by Bucks County Council.  It had an £8 million contract with BCC to provide social care, including residential respite at Seeleys House.   The services were assessed as inadequate last year by the Care Quality Commission and the services have been brought back in house by BCC.  BCC has had to cover something like £2.4 million of debt incurred by Bucks Care.

 

Robin Stuchbury, Labour’s County Councillor has asked BCC a series of questions about Bucks Care and at last got some answers.  A shortened version is below and we’ve provided translations.    It’s a long blog but a lot of people have been waiting for these answers.

 

There is still no sign that Mike Appleyard, the cabinet member responsible, is thinking of resigning.  

 

Question 1:  When will BCC make a statement explaining what happened at Bucks Care Ltd that led to the services being assessed as inadequate and being brought back in-house with a substantial deficit for BCC to cover? 

BCC Answer: We have no plans to issue any further statements on this subject.

 Translation:  We have no intention of telling residents how this scandal happened and who was responsible.   We’ve been asked by BCC’s scrutiny committee to ensure we learn the lessons from our experience of setting up these sorts of companies before setting up any more.   But we think we will ignore that and go ahead with privatising the libraries anyway - but after the election.   

 

 

 

Question 2: Can I have a copy of the latest accounts?  The accounts up to March 2016 were due with Companies House in December. 

 Answer:  The 2015/16 accounts are with the auditors and likely to be signed off early next month.  In normal circumstances these would have been published before the end of December 2016. However, despite having submitted them on time, due to the insourcing of Buckinghamshire Care Limited and related issues the auditors were unable to sign them off before the end of December.   

 Translation:  The auditors are taking a long time to sign off the accounts and we are a bit worried about that.  But perhaps this is no bad thing as we may be able to delay publication until after the election.   

We just hope no-one has spotted that the Registrar of Companies gave notice on 14 March that the company will be struck off the register and dissolved in 2 months.  

 

 

 

Question 3: Is it true that the NHS has withdrawn continuing healthcare funding for users of Seeleys House?    If so, can you tell me why?

 Answer:  This is not true.

 Translation: None needed.  If anyone has had their continuing healthcare funding withdrawn, they can see it just did not happen.  

 

 

 

Question 4:  Is it true that users of Seeleys House have been offered alternative respite outside Bucks?  If so, where and why?

 Answer: Where respite is indicated all options would normally be explored – there is no ‘one size fits all’ and some clients may prefer to go out of county and view respite as an opportunity for a short-break ‘holiday’ away from daily routine. 

Translation:  Of course they have gone out of county as we haven’t got anywhere else.  Let’s pretend that clients enjoy having a holiday in Reading or Milton Keynes and ignore the fact that this client group needs routine and gets very upset with changes.  

 

 

 

Question 5: People are seeking an assurance that services at Seeleys House will be brought up to a good standard?  If so, when do you think that will be?

Answer:  The intention is to bring Seeley’s House up to a good standard by mid-April 2017.

Translation:  We won’t give an assurance – let’s palm them off with some intentions.

 

 

 

Queston 6:  Can I have an assurance that BCC will continue to offer at least as many beds as now for the group of people who need residential respite?

 Answer:  There are no plans to reduce actual bed numbers (currently 12) at Seeley’s House Respite Unit. 

Translation:  Don’t mention that Seeleys House is closing and the real answer is no.

 

 

 

Question 7:  When will BCC make a statement about the future of Seeleys House?

Answer:  BCC is committed to delivering respite care from Seeleys House until its replacement service is developed. Families of users have been heavily engaged in discussions about a replacement facility and the Council remains committed to this plan and the ongoing engagement of families.

 Translation: Not going to tell you and certainly not before the election.

 

Damning report on adult social care.  When is Councillor Appleyard going to resign?

 20 January 2017

Three days ago (17 Jan), the Care Quality Commission published its report on the care provided at Seeleys House by Bucks Care Ltd, a company set up and wholly owned by Bucks County Council and funded by an £8 million contract from BCC  (see blog below for background).

 

The Care Quality Commission rated the care provided as inadequate – the worst rating. 

 

Its report is damning.  Amongst other things, vulnerable people at Seeleys House were at risk from an unsafe environment, including from fire and electricity.  People were at risk from abuse.  They were not treated with dignity and respect.  Staff did not make sure medicine was taken as prescribed.  There were concerns about staffing levels.  There were breaches of the law.

 

And the company had not responded to a warning given at a previous visit in April.

 

How did BCC let this happen?  Did BCC know what was happening but did nothing about it?    In which case, who knew and why no action?

 

Or did BCC not know what was happening?  In which case, who was meant to monitor the contract and the performance of Bucks Care and why did they not find out what was happening?

 

All we know from BCC about the collapse of Bucks Care Ltd is a Cabinet paper buried on BCC’s website before Christmas.

 

When the news broke, the Councillor responsible for adult social care, Councillor Appleyard, was apparently not available.   One of his colleagues stood in for him but said very little about the reasons for the collapse. 

 

The Leader of BCC, Councillor Tett was pressed for answers a week ago by Councillor Stuchbury, a Labour Councillor and Councillor Adams, a UKIP Councillor.  They were told little except to attend a confidential briefing the next week.

 

That briefing took place but still no statement from Councillor Appleyard. 

 

We need to know the financial position of Bucks Care.  We understand it was over £2million in debt and there will be costs over and above that in bringing the work back to BCC.

 

We need to know who is responsible for this failure.

 

We need to know the plans for bringing the service back in-house, and what is going to happen to Seeley’s House.

 

And we need to know when Councillor Appleyard is going to resign.

 

 

Bucks Children’s Services – BCC just can’t stop spinning

13 January 2017

On 10 January, Ofsted published the findings of its latest monitoring visit to Bucks County Council’s Children’s Services.

Its report says “the local authority is making steady progress to improve services for children in some areas. The local authority has taken action to strengthen practice in respect of children at risk of sexual exploitation and children who go missing, but the pace of improvement in these areas is not meeting expectations”.

Its findings are mixed.  As a rough guide, 7 of the findings were critical and 6 were complimentary.   

But BCC just can’t stop congratulating itself. 

The headline of BCC’s press release is “Children’s Services making ‘steady progress’ says Ofsted”   No mention that the steady progress is “in some areas”.

The three words are omitted again in the first paragraph of the press release.  It goes on to say that BCC “is strengthening practice” but omits to say that the pace of improvement is not meeting expectations.   

Perhaps BCC needs reminding that it is now 3 years since its then Head of Children’s Services wrote to the Chief Executive of BCC to warn him starkly and in some detail that BCC was failing the children it should have been protecting and to tell him that the main reason for the failure was lack of resources.   

Far from increasing the budget, BCC actually cut the budget of Children’s Service by £1 million. 

Ofsted arrived in June 2014 and assessed Children’s Services as inadequate – the worst rating. It was a scathing report.

BCC went into denial and cover- up saying it had produced a robust recovery plan for the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan.  However, she took just 7 days to reject BCC’s plan and put in her own advisor, a company called Red Quadrant.

Red Quadrant produced its own scathing report in January 2015 slating BCC for its slowness in getting its Children’s Services up to an adequate standard and criticising BCC for its failure “at the highest corporate level” to own and drive through the necessary changes.  

Red Quadrant said progress was slow because key politicians cared more about the Council’s tarnished reputation than they did about safeguarding Bucks children.   

By now BCC had had to pump at least £8 million into Children’s Services, over 20% of its budget.  It also had to pay the cost of Red Quadrant’s services.     

2 years later, Children’s Services still needs improvement.   It is simply not good enough.

 

BCC to discuss social care scandal in secret - still no answers

10 January 2017

BCC has still to explain why it decided before Christmas to bring its adult social care services back in- house after contracting them out to Bucks Care Ltd, a company BCC set up in 2013.    

Two Councillors tried on Monday at BCC’s Cabinet meeting to find out more. 

One of those Councillors, Robin Stuchbury, who is a Labour Councillor, said he had no problem with the decision to bring the services back in-house but something had obviously gone wrong and it was not clear what that was.  Was it about finance or quality of services?  

Councillor Tett, the Leader of the Tory Group on BCC, gave no details but confirmed that officers had lost confidence in Bucks Care being able to deliver on both finance and quality.

Cllr Stuchbury suggested that the decision had not been taken over night so information should be available; it would be helpful to have some openness and clarity about the decision.

Cllr Tett gave no answer, merely saying there was a full members’ briefing next week. 

Members’ briefings are confidential.  So that doesn’t take us any further. 

The other Councillor to have a go at trying to find out more was Chris Adams, a UKIP Councillor.   He asked about the £2.4 million needed to write off Bucks Care’s debts and the additional on-going revenue costs.   He asked what impact this would have on BCC’s revenue position - was there something currently planned by BCC which could not now be afforded?

Cllr Tett said this was being looked at and was confident it could be handled.

Cllr Adams then asked about an extension which had been made to the Bucks Care’s contract with BCC.  When had that decision been made, who by and on what basis?   And when were concerns first raised with BCC, and how and when were those concerns raised with Councillors?

Cllr Tett said he could not answer.

Both he and the Chief Executive hoped as many Councillors as possible would attend the members briefing the next week.

So no joy there.

It is odd to see a Labour and a UKIP Councillor asking the same questions on a matter of public concern.  I would like to thank both of them and hope they keep asking until everyone knows what happened to this failing company. 

 

BCC tries to hide social care scandal at Christmas.

20 December 2017

BCC decided a week ago to bring its day care services, its respite services and other adult social care services back in-house after contracting them out to Buckingham Care Ltd in 2013.   This decision is described by BCC as “Key”; it directly affects thousands of people – not least, the people who use the service, their carers and the staff of Bucks Care.    

You would think then that BCC would issue a press release to explain to everyone, including taxpayers, why the services are being brought back in- house and the impact on service users and staff. 

But no, the only place you could find the information was in a Cabinet paper published today and tucked away on BCC’s internet.  It was only when Robin Stuchbury, our Labour Party Councillor, started to ask questions, followed by the press, that the scandal came to light. 

And scandal it is. 

Wendy Mallen, deputy cabinet member for health and wellbeing said when pressed by the press that the decision had been taken “due to a number of operational issues related to service quality and financial management”  and that the “Council has lost confidence in the company's ability to deliver services to the high standards it expects”, 

But the real explanation by the Tory-dominated Council (and please let me know if I have got this wrong) would go something like this

 “As Tories we believe the free market will provide and that the public sector is inefficient and should be as small as possible.  So when the Tory Government started cutting our budget three years ago, we decided to set up a company, out- source these services – and cut the budget at the same time.   The changes cost us some money at the time and a lot of anxiety amongst our staff but we believe in the free market.  So we paid Bucks Care Ltd £8 million a year to provide the services and we left them to it.

Then well blow me down, we were horrified when the Care Quality Commission inspected the services in April this year and reported that they were inadequate – not enough staff and not enough qualified staff to provide a safe and effective service.   And the leaders we had appointed turned out to be not all that good at leadership, despite the fact the managing director was paid £140,341 in 2014/5.     

Perhaps we should have monitored the contract and spotted these problems before the regulator did.   We probably had a statutory duty to do that – but hey we trusted Bucks Care Ltd.  It’s not our fault they let us down.

We have a statutory duty to provide these services so we’ve really got no choice but to bring them back in-house.   It’s going to cost us more money to make the changes and goodness knows where we are going to find it.  As you all know, BCC is broke. 

We thought we would avoid a major PR disaster by playing it really low key over Christmas but it looks as though we have been caught out. 

I suppose some heads ought to roll but hopefully we can duck that what with it being Christmas.

Oh and sorry to all those poor people who have had really poor service from Bucks Care.”