Closure of two Leeds care homes ‘driven by arrogance’, council opposition leaders claim

Labour members of Leeds City Council are “scared stiff” of going against their own party’s policies, the leader of the authority’s main opposition group has claimed.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 4:45 am

Leeds Conservatives leader Coun Andrew Carter added the council’s recent refusal to look again into its closure of two care homes was “appalling” and “out of order”, accusing Labour members of refusing to use their powers to investigate whether the closures could have been avoided.

Another senior councillor said council decision-making was “driven by arrogance”.

Hitting back at the claims, Labour councillors insisted residents of Home Lea House and Richmond House would be properly looked after, and called on Conservative members to put pressure on their own party to increase funding levels for adult social care.

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Leeds Conservatives leader Coun Andrew Carter
Leeds Conservatives leader Coun Andrew Carter

The closure of the two homes, which was made by Leeds City Council’s decision-making executive board, is expected to save the council around £1.5m a year.

A request to look into the decision, known as a call-in, went before a recent council scrutiny board meeting, but was voted down by Labour panel members.

Speaking to a full Leeds City Council meeting this week, Coun Carter said: “At the last Executive Board, we were presented with 300 pages to justify and condone the closure of Home Lea House and Richmond House – 300 pages of whitewash, 300 pages of an engineered excuse to justify decisions we had already made.

“When we asked for a call-in, the behaviour of some scrutiny board members can only be described as appalling and out of order. The duty of scrutiny is to hold the executive to account.”

He then quoted a statement made by former Labour councillor Paul Drinkwater when he quit the party earlier this year, claiming that he had been ‘bullied’ into supporting proposals by the ruling Labour group.

“It seems that is the problem with your scrutiny board members,” added Coun Carter. “Your members are scared stiff, and they won’t speak up or ask questions.

“What sort of administration do you think you are running? Long John Silver’s parrot cannot say ‘austerity, austerity, austerity’ anymore – they are up to their neck in money, and they should use some of it positively.”

The decision by the authority to close two care homes – Home Lea House in Rothwell and Richmond House in Calverley – was made back in February, and is expected to save the authority just over £1.5m next year.

Home Lea House is a 29-bed long-stay residential home in Rothwell – it currently houses 18 residents and has a gross annual budget of £789,000.

Richmond House is a 20-bed residential service in Farsley. It offers short term care and support to people who require convalescence following a hospital admission.

A report by Leeds City Council officers had claimed the closures would contribute annual savings of £1.531m to the council’s £118.8m budget gap for 2021/22. It added the decision would allow the council to meet its legal requirement to be financially stable, and insisted residents will be looked after.

But the council’s Liberal Democrat leader Coun Stuart Golton said more could have been done to keep the homes open, adding: “Unfortunately once this administration has taken a decision, it will not change it if it feels someone else is asking them to do so and it wasn’t their idea.

“This is decision-making driven by arrogance.

“When it runs an exercise in consultation for the vulnerable, it ignores any opinion other than its own. You really do need to take a look inside yourself as to how you take your decisions. There is currently a void where that compassion should be.”

Coun Barry Anderson (Con) added: “This decision and its subsequent call-in showed this council at its worst. Despite the consultation, they ploughed ahead regardless of what your citizens were saying. You ignored your electorate.

“You ignore every single thing that people tell you that doesn’t fit in with your narrow focus on things.”

Responding to the comments, the council’s deputy leader Coun Jonathan Pryor (Lab) said: “I was shocked to hear Coun Carter belittling austerity when, from this Government, our council has lost over £2bn.

“The decisions we make are not because we want to, they are decisions we are being forced to. Conservative cuts could have paid for those care homes a thousand times over, so I will hear no lectures from Coun Carter over the difficult decisions we have made.”

Coun Fiona Venner (Lab), the authority’s executive member for social care, added: “I appreciate that the closure of care homes is distressing to people who live and work in them. This is not a decision the Labour administration has taken lightly.”

To Coun Carter’s comments, she said: “I’m sorry if 300 pages was a lot of reading for you, but you would have complained had it been three pages.

“We prepared a thorough report to make a decision. This is in the context of the £118m deficit the council was facing this year, and a huge decline in the demand for care homes – not just based on pandemic levels of occupancy.

“Richmond House has not been financially viable since the NHS decommissioned the service in 2017. It has run at an average occupancy level of 55 per cent since 2018/19.

“There are 18 people living in Home Lea House, and Dolphin Manor, another care home in the same ward, had 14 vacancies, meaning most residents will be able to stay in the same ward in a council-run care home.

“Our care homes require revenue funding year after year, revenue funding, Coun Carter and Coun Anderson, that your Government has stripped from us over a decade of swingeing cuts.

“If our Tory opposition care as much as you say you do about care homes then get your Government to properly fund social care.”

“Boris (Johnson) stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised to fix the broken system of social care – and what did we get in this year’s budget? Nine measly words: ‘proposals will be brought forward later in the year’ – kicked into the long grass once again.

“I want to reassure people who live and work in Home Lea House and Richmond House – we are committed to ensuring that people will be supported to move or find new respite options – this will be done by experienced social workers and with compassion and respect.

“We will work with staff and trade unions to support redeployment of staff who want to continue working in the directorate.”