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Consultation, But Mind The Elephants

August 1, 2012

There is a delicious juxtaposition of articles in my local paper today; the excellent Uxbridge Gazette.

The front page carries the story of the ongoing battle of a group of committed families to challenge the London Borough of Hillingdon’s decision to close three of its day centres and replace them with one smaller “hub”. The decision would mean that the number of people using the new centre would reduce by 50% and important relationships that have been built over several years will be lost forever. The families believe that the consultation process may have been unlawful and last week, permission was granted by the High Court for a full judicial review in September. surprisingly, at the last-minute, the council have backtracked and have re-opened the consultation process. The article carries the headline: “Be open with us on day centre closures”.

Flick over a couple of pages and we find the story of the High Court ruling last Thursday in the damages claim of Neary vs Hillingdon. Last week, a Court of Protection judge declared that Hillingdon should pay £35,000 to Steven for the year he was illegally detained in their care.

What strikes me as interesting about these two articles is the statement they make about Hillingdon’s track record on consultation. In the original Neary Vs Hillingdon judgement June 2011, Justice Peter Jackson comments several times on the duplicity of the council; they led Steven and I to believe that Steven would be returning home, whilst behind the scenes, carrying out a quite different agenda of planning to move him hundreds of miles away. One of the reasons why the judge found that all four deprivation of liberty authorisations were unlawful was that they didn’t record Steven’s or my views. we were asked but our wishes were never included on the orders, much less acted upon. A superficial consultation. I know, from talking to the campaigners of the day centre closures, that the phrase “superficial consultation” is far too generous – the decision had long been made.

Another interesting feature of the two stories is the wonderful spin used by Hillingdon. In Steven’s story, the deputy director of social care, Moira Wilson says, “The council is pleased a settlement has been reached which is satisfactory to the judge and the Neary family”. The inference of this statement is that Hillingdon have been virtues of benevolence and that it has been the court and the Nearys that have caused the claim to take a year to reach settlement. A teensy weensy bit disingenuous Ms Wilson? For over  a year, whatever figure the Official solicitor has proposed, Hillingdon have shrugged their shoulders apologetically and warned that they would have to claw back the damages by charging Steven the full rate for his care package. The claim could have been settled out of court without incurring any costs; there have been many opportunities over the last year for that to happen. Another needless hearing that will be added to the already enormous costs bill that Justice Jackson has ordered Hillingdon to bear. And there’s another hearing to go. The Official Solicitor feels that because of the underhand way that Hillingdon have behaved all the way along, it is in Steven’s best interests for me to be appointed his welfare deputy. It’s a massive irony because Hillingdon sought to be appointed his welfare deputy back that first hearing in December 2010. Eighteen months later, they have shown themselves to be so untrustworthy that the Official Solcitor’s position is that Steven needs extra protection from them for the future. Another costly hearing.

Back to the front page and the decision of the council to reopen the consultation process, the leader of the council, Mr Puddifoot speaks: “Whilst I have the greatest respect for those involved in the legal profession, I have no intention of allowing public funds, either from the legal aid budget or the council’s social care budget, being utilised where it is not necessary”. there you go then – take that you money grabbing solicitor bastards. You couldn’t make this up!

Mr Puddifoot’s statement exposes the almighty pickle councils get into when they make an “efficiency savings” decision and then try to present it as something completely different. There’s no good reason to close three popular day centres other than money; yet it has been presented to the families as “promoting service user’s independence”. Hiding the real agenda is unsustainable and makes the illusory agenda ever more ludicrous. The same with Steven; every battle I have with the LA (whether it be about respite or the normal day-to-day care package) is about money but the discussions become farcical because we dare not speak money’s name.

I don’t see this ever changing because the truth can never be owned. So, in the meantime, public funds will continue to be utilised for legal fights in expensive court cases and day centres will continue to close and care packages will continue to be cut.

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From → Social Care

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