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Tuesday, 4th July 2017

More on the Beeches, cuts for very vulnerable people, and the Tandridge Local Plan etc!

Episode Three.

This has been a very busy time.

The Beeches will close and half of the parents who use the service have not yet found an adequate replacement package. (The Beeches provides over-night respite care for parents and children with severe disabilities in Reigate.)

In preparation for the County Council meeting next week and the Cabinet on 18th, I have been asking questions about The Beeches- though I don’t imagine I can make the Cabinet change its mind, I can at least try to speak about the betrayal of the hard pressed but very loving parents who have said how important the service is to them and their children, how the County Council has failed to commission a replacement service half of them can use, and how it has yet again failed to manage the commissioning of joint health and social care packages. The closure is also a betrayal of the parents of children with severe disabilities in the East of Surrey, as if they can find a replacement service, they will have to watch their children despatched in specialist transport over distances that discomfort and distress them.

Housing Related Support

There is also a major threat to the wellbeing of some of our most disadvantaged residents in the proposals before the Committee for Adult Social Care to cut (I hate the use of the euphemism “efficiency savings”) grant funding to vulnerable people who don’t qualify for an Adult Social Care package but who require support to prevent suffering or their independence being threatened. This funding stream used to be called “Supporting People” but is now called Housing Related Support.

To quote from the published Equality Impact Assessment:

“The schemes are intended to support adults to live independently in the community for longer by preventing, reducing or delaying their needs for care and support. In so doing they support adults who, in the main, do not meet ASC eligibility criteria but who may need more intensive and costly intervention if the services were not there. They also support the Directorate to comply with its preventative duties under the Care Act 2014.  Housing-related support services normally operate alongside accommodation and include supporting homeless individuals to transition to a settled home and access education and employment, helping older people to maintain their independence and providing specialist support to particularly vulnerable groups including victims of domestic abuse, people with mental health needs and people with learning/physical and sensory disabilities.

The proposed level of savings required across Housing Related Support services, coming on top of the £225m savings already achieved by the Directorate over the last seven years, means it will be challenging to mitigate potential negative impacts for people who use services.  There are risks that:

This reduced investment in preventive services may mean some people find it more challenging to remain independent in their community; it may lead to a rise in hospital and residential care admissions; and an increase in homelessness, rough sleeping and associated health problems.

To mitigate this risk we will consult on proposals to decommission Housing Related Support services; re-commission a new service for socially excluded client groups; ensure any changes are evaluated for their potential impact; and support providers to look for other creative ways to fund and deliver these services.

Providers may face financial difficulty with pressure on their viability and ability to respond to future commissioning proposals.  To mitigate this risk we will support providers to look for other creative ways to fund and deliver these services; provide appropriate written notice to providers of any changes.

There may be increased pressure on health, borough, district, voluntary sector partners and informal carers.  To mitigate this risk we will continue to collaborate with partners to deliver local integrated community based health and social care. “

In Local Government code this means that the cuts will hurt badly and there is not much they can do about it.

My sources tell me that the Borough and District Housing officers are spitting with rage about this move which will prejudice the wellbeing of so many vulnerable people and increase pressure on homelessness services as housing placements collapse without the support of HRS.

I will be addressing this at the Committee next week. I feel a deep sense of rage at these very damaging cuts which officers admit will have a devastating effect (they won’t use the word devastating) but these are officers who care about the people who will suffer. They have worked with Borough and District colleagues to maintain housing placements for the vulnerable which will now collapse and to support carers for whom the strain may be insupportable.

Working in the public sector, if you are someone who cares, is now hugely compromising and stressful. All the things they care about are threatened and they people they care about are suffering.

The fundamental issue is that government policy for over ten years has cut off funding for local government and the latest financial settlement for Surrey has seen it suffer extremely badly. The leadership at government and Council level has betrayed so many vulnerable people and there seems to be so little I and like-minded colleagues can do about it. I can only point to the bleeding corpse of the welfare state and scream while it inexorably exsanguinates.

Our motion on funding for the Fire and Rescue Service is published with the Council Agenda on the SCC website. I will be privileged to second it.

The Tandridge Local Plan

The District Council has been very focused on the requirement to produce a Local Plan- a plan which must be presented to Government Inspectors to demonstrate an adequate housing supply in Tandridge through to 2030.

There is no subject in recent years at TDC which has proved so controversial and which has produced such deep divisions. I will call it as I see it.

In Tandridge the average house price is £475k. It is among the highest prices in the country. It means that our children can’t afford to get on the housing ladder here unless they have exceptional income, and it means that there is a demographic time bomb as our population ages and will not be able to look after itself.

That said, I am sick to death of housing development in Caterham. Caterham is full. As the flooding catastrophe of last June showed, its infrastructure is broken and funding for its replacement is very hard to identify. Caterham has taken so much development because Tandridge is 94% Green Belt.

The government has required Councils (Planning Authorities, so not the County) to determine an Objective Assessment of (Housing) Need. There is another problem. Objective? According to whom? Whose need?

Councillors could spend years debating the OAN; which methodology could be used; which number should be set. The number was until recently seen by the Council as a toxic target, the subject of suspicion and conspiracy theory; such concerns have been fuelled by the Oxted and Limpsfield Residents Group and their allies. Perfectly reasonably, they want to challenge the OAN methodology so as to minimise the impact of building on Tandridge; they are also implacable in their opposition to building in the Green Belt.

We cannot afford to do nothing, or to talk about doing nothing. The failure to secure an approved Local Plan would leave the District, including both Caterham and the Green Belt, open to any developer’s predations. Government policy is to build, so any move we make has to be a defensive one. We have to choose a defensive strategy with the best chance of success and the least destructive impact.

It is true to say that many in our community were worried about the competence of planning officers and whether they had their own agenda; whether those concerns were well founded is irrelevant. They were real concerns.

So it was clear that a new vision was needed to drive the Council out of a dangerous impasse from which no-one could benefit. The crisis was deep as residents threw out the previous Leader of the Council, supporting the concerns of OLRG.

There was a new commitment to the Council building its own houses (a very good plan but clumsily handled, because they wanted only to build on land they owned, not land they bought) and the building plan was not co-ordinated with the Local Plan. By hey- it was the right direction.

Then there was a commitment to try to solve the housing need crisis by sacrificing no more than 1% of the Green Belt and building a “Garden Village” somewhere in the Green Belt.

Could such a plan offer protection to the rest of the Green Belt? Could it offer other benefits to the District as a whole? Could it produce sufficient housing to satisfy and Inspector and secure us a Local Plan?

Maybe. It must secure us better public transport, improvements to Primary Care, Junction 6 of the M25 and sufficient community infrastructure, including primary and secondary schools. We will learn more about the detail of the developers’ proposals in the forthcoming consultation. I think at least two of the proposals are likely to be regarded as non-starters, but maybe one of the others will offer solutions.

I respect the new Leader of the Council for setting out a vision to break the log-jam. It is a bold step which carries with it much political risk. I will scrutinise the process to see that it is transparent and fair and that the promises made are kept. I have appreciated the opportunity to bring such scrutiny. There is no conspiracy, and the political leadership is ensuring a timely and transparent process. Whether all our residents will be persuaded that it is fair and open, or that the vision is sustainable, or that the balance of judgement offered is astute, I don’t know. If it keeps development out of Caterham I will have at least ensured my residents have been protected; I will have to ensure that there is no infilling in our town.

I have to respect a vision which might work; doing nothing is not an option. I certainly respect its courage.