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Please enlighten us on your idea of ‘openness’ Hag…
IT WAS a revelation. The all-seeing all-knowing crowd who packed St Anne’s Church hall in Penparcau to protest about the county council’s plan to close Bodlondeb old people’s home (“Close? Do you mind, it’s just a feasibility study!”) was able to sniff out humbug with the ease of a tracker-dog finding a fugitive.
They groaned and they chuckled and they scoffed as time after time the council line was shown to be shot through with inconsistencies and contradictions, the whole overlain with a fog of unanswered questions.
Consider the claim that the process of “considering” closure would be conducted with total openness, that every twist and turn of the cabinet’s ponderings would be transparent. Hag Harris, the cabinet member responsible for social services: “I’m absolutely committed to openness in this process. No decision has been made - a feasibility study is being prepared…There isn’t a democratic deficit here...I believe we operate openly.”
Nothing, it seemed, would be withheld from a public hungry for information about this disgraceful plan, which emerged as from nowhere two months ago, and just as suddenly would have been waved through had it not been blocked by public protest.
So, humbug? Well, the feasibility study, we were told, will basically inform a decision to be taken by the cabinet on Tuesday, 12 July on whether Bodlondeb will stay or go. This report is due to be circulated to cabinet members well before they meet, giving this inner core of eight councillors, who alone make all the important decisions, plenty of time to study it.
Thus, for everything to be open, the study would have to made available to the public at the same time as it went to the cabinet. But, we were told, it won’t be. Why? Because, according to Hag Harris, it must be seen by the cabinet first, and anything else would be...“inappropriate”. That’s not openness.
But it gets worse. Because, later, Harris concedes there is no guarantee that the study will ever be made available to the public. It may be designated “confidential”. On the grounds, presumably, of “commercial confidentiality” linked to the potential deal with care homes charity MHA, who have given the council an option to move Bodlondeb’s residents into Hafan y Waun, a complex on the outskirts of Waunfawr two miles away. Openness? Well, no, actually.
That wasn’t the end of it. For MHA’s option, we learned, expires at the end of August. There is therefore the possibility that, on 12 July, the cabinet, having studied a report that may be hidden from the public, will decide to close Bodlondeb, taking its residents away from their much-loved home-from-home within a community – Penparcau – which feels as close to Bodlondeb as it does to Penparcau.
With just six weeks to go before MHA’s option expires, what would happen then? Plaid Cymru, whose members would see the feasibility study, would almost certainly challenge in a scrutiny committee any cabinet decision to shut Bodlondeb. But we’re by then deep into the holiday month of August, and protesters, perhaps denied sight of the feasibility study, would be ill-equipped for, and have little opportunity to organise, further challenges. And, despite Plaid objections, the final decision on the issue would be taken by the cabinet.
By now, the democratic deficit denied by Hag Harris would be well and truly in place.
There remains the fog of unanswered questions. How exactly will the cabinet go about analysing the feasibility study? What criteria will they use as they weigh it up, what value judgments will they bring into play? There were no answers from social services director Parry Davies, or from Hag Harris, and it was no wonder the church hall crowd signalled their exasperation.
How much importance, indeed, will the cabinet accord to the contentment and security of Bodlondeb’s vulnerable residents, as against the worry, even fear, likely to be caused by plucking them from familiar surroundings and depositing them somewhere both unfamiliar and different in nature?
Does the cabinet think it relevant that, because Hafan y Waun cares for people with dementia, residents are denied free access to the outside world? To get out, you need a key. At Bodlondeb, residents are free pop out whenever they feel like it.
How much importance will the cabinet give to finding the measly £300,000 they now say is needed to bring Bodlondeb up to social services inspectorate standards, standards that were introduced nearly 10 years ago? No word on that either.
The haziness extended to a general vagueness on how the £300,000 figure was arrived at. And, unsurprisingly perhaps, there was no mention of how, or why, within weeks, the bill for works at Bodlondeb has climbed from a previous figure of £275,000 to £300,000.
As the Bodlondeb scandal unfolds, the Southern Cross crisis is a sharp reminder that care homes and profit are a volatile and dangerous mix. Bodlondeb’s residents deserve two things: to be left undisturbed and in the public sector. There, as the St Anne’s meeting showed, they are among friends,