Consultation is underway on the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council's plans to close Gardner House Day Centre in Maidenhead and stop money for warden services in sheltered homes across the borough.
The sweeping changes would save the Royal Borough £350,00 a year.
It says the current arrangements do not provide value for money and it plans to replace the services by investing £20,000 into expanding support provided by volunteers. Almost 700 elderly people would be affected by the changes and users of Gardner House have launched a petition against its closure.
Reporter Laura Enfield sat down with the council's head of adult services Christabel Shawcross to find out more.
Why does the council want to make these changes?
Nationally and locally there's a significant growth in the numbers of people aged over 80 and those with dementia and they will typically need more adult social care services and support and particularly specialist needs. We have looked at dealing with it within existing budgets but also dealing with budget growth and being as efficient as we can so that the services are cost effective. We also have our transformation of adult care-which is about enabling people to know the care needs that they have and to know the money they have to spend to secure the services they want. They have a specific budget so we have to make sure that the services are set on a more commercial and economic footing. We also want to expand the range and choice of services that are available for people.
Why are you looking at closing Gardner House Day Centre (GHDC)?
Gardner House opened in 2005. It was set up to provide about 25 places per day and it covered a range of needs. However what we have found the needs of people have are not best met at that centre. We have only 22 people in total on the books and a maximum on any one day of 11 people attending. We obviously know the day centre is well liked by the users and of course the staff are doing their best and providing a quality and friendly service to the users and are well known to them. But it's really important to set it in the broader context and ask is it cost effective? And is it able to meet those growing numbers of people with a higher level of needs who need specialist care?
What specifically is wrong with it?
The accommodation and resource it is in is not ideal. It was actually built to be a lounge as part of the sheltered housing complex that is there and has a passageway going through it for those tenants. So people using the day centre don't have the privacy and dignity that people ought to have. The kitchen facilities are also limited so food has to be brought in and ordered on a monthly basis so there's very limited choice.
Was GHDC always a short-term option you knew you would have to replace?
I wasn't here at the time but I'm quite sure the intention would have been that there would be a need to see how it could develop and what the choices and needs would be. But clearly we're seven years on and the situation has changed and we have more information about the needs of people coming through. The constraint of the building are ones we need to overcome. Our responsibility is to those 22 people using the service but also to the significant numbers coming through wanting different types of services. So we have to balance that.
Is it that the building isn't good enough or is it that it's too expensive to run?
It's not a question of cost. Its not good enough.
So what are you going to provide instead?
We're starting on the consultation on the options to carefully analyse what people say. We want to know what they get out of the day service and what's important to them and look at if we can recreate what's important to them whether its at Lady Elizabeth House (LEH) or wherever they wish to have that service. A service is likely to be set up at LEH through the voluntary sector with the council coming to an agreement with a voluntary group to be the service provider.
Would you have to do any building work at LEH?
What is already there can be used but it will need to be assessed as we're still at the early stage of looking at what specifically might be needed and what the opportunities are to expand and improve.
What is that room currently used for?
I'd have to check on that.
How many people would be able to use LEH if it is set up?
I'd have to check that.
Would there just be the voluntary service at LEH?
Yes, but if people had higher needs we would make arrangements for them. For example they might be able to go and want to go to the Boyn Grove Resource Centre.
So none of the staff at GHDC or equivalent would go to LEH? Would it all be volunteers?
We don't know yet what the make up will be. That would require us to discuss with the provider. But typically there would be a range of paid staff and volunteers as well. Sometimes people with a personal budget may have a personal assistant who looks after them on a daily basis and that may enable them to go to a voluntary sector day centre but help with their personal needs if the day centre can't accommodate that. It's very much focussed on what individual needs are rather than saying this is the service you have to fit into it.
Which organisation are the volunteers going to come from?
We are still at the early stages of consulting what people would like and needs. We will be exploring with a range of providers what might be possible.
So would it be just one organisation?
Not necessarily. We may look at a partnership of organisations. It is likely to be one organisation.
So there would still be professionally trained staff there?
Yes absolutely. The quality of service at Gardner House would have to be replicated.
What happens to the GHDC staff if it closes?
It's unlikely they would be going over to LEH. If there were a change we would hope they would continue to have employment within the council but that's all subject to consultation.
GHDC users and their families have started this petition saying they didn't want it to move. How much weight does that really carry?
Obviously we need to make sure everyone understands why we are having to look at how we can best provide the service. We will be explaining to users our thinking and why we think there is a better option for them and for other people that we can develop with them at LEH. We have to look at all the comments we get back. We can't predetermine the outcome of any consultation. We have to make sure everybody makes an informed response.
What happens next?
We are currently out to consultation. We're having more meetings over the next few weeks with users and carers at Gardner House. We will then be assessing peoples comments and views and how we can mitigate any issues people have to go to cabinet with a recommendation for a way forward. That decision is on April 26. We're also looking at options of WRVS service to expand the offer that they have as well to give people another option of somewhere they can go to get information and make friends. Carebank is also launching within the next couple of months and that is another way we can provide lower level support to people to help them live in their own homes.
Why is the council making a cut and then asking volunteers to fill that gap?
To be absolutely clear we are not making a cut. We are not cutting a service. We are continuing to provide a day care service. We want the new service to provide for more people in a much better environment and therefore attract more people to go into it. We are reinvesting any saving from not providing an in house service into developing those services. I know the people using the service will see it as a change but we are not stopping providing them with any service.
How will the work with the voluntary sector be expanded?
Any range of service would also come out of discussions we will be having with voluntary sector to take on and build on services they already provide. Many of whom already get funding from the local authority. This fits with the Big Society idea of services being provided not just in Maidenhead or Windsor but also in villages as well. We will be continuing to scope that and look at what the investment needs might be.
So is it a case that the council hasn't utilised the voluntary sector as much as it could have done before?
Yes I think we are all looking at developing the capacity that the voluntary sector has because very often the voluntary sector is much more part of the community and can help us identify people in need and help expand the volunteer base and also work in partnership. The Royal Borough has a very good reputation of working in partnership with the voluntary sector and indeed in funding the voluntary sector.
Over the next few years is the adult service budget going to have to be increased or will you have to find more savings?
We always have to find better ways of working and making sure all our services are efficient and as effective as possible. Yes there may need to be growth - we expect there will need to be.
The council also wants to stop paying housing associations (HA) money towards wardens. Do you expect most of them will have to get rid of the wardens?
There's traditionally been this pot of money from the council to help them and some have wardens and others have telecare and so on. Some also comes from the associations and some comes through rent. So people effectively pay for the service. The associations and the council want to rationalise what is it that is needed and what's the best way of supporting people in sheltered housing. Given only some have wardens not all of them do so clearly its a different type of service for different people. S the housing ass have started to review whether they want to provide that service and the rent levels and charging aspect and so its timely for use to combine together to look at what's the best way of providing low level support to much larger numbers of people. So expanding telecare and the WRVS service if people want to go and get advice and information.
Basically the council is saying it doesn't think wardens are the best way to provide that support?
No we're not saying what's best. It's up to the housing associations to assess how to support all their tenants. We provide funding for that and we think it can be provided in a different way. So that's what the consultation is about.
But you are taking your money away for wardens.
Well we're consulting on that.
But the fact you are consulting on it means you want to do it.
We think there are better ways, yes, but it's not for us to decide. Not all the associations provide wardens. Yes they are valued by people so we need to look at very carefully what people value about them to look at re-providing that in a different way and in a more cost effective way - for the housing associations as well.
So if it was decided to take that money away where does it go?
The associations also provide a range of service so it could be that some of that money would go back into help them develop services in other ways.
So they haven't indicated what they plan to do?
Discussions are ongoing.
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