Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Guest blog - Your Choice means no choice in Barnet by John Sullivan

By John Sullivan,
(Hear John Sullivan tell his story in A Tale of Two Barnets - http://ataleoftwobarnets.yolasite.com/)

As promised I am back with part 2 of my comments on the forming of the" Your Choice Barnet" Local Authority Trading Company (LATC), formed in my opinion to make a profit from the disabled within our community  which I have already described as perverse and sick minded. I am sorry, it is a bit long winded, but if you take the time and trouble to read it through, I am sure you will understand how difficult and risky it is for me to provide a more abbreviated version which could so easily miss a major issue for some or inadvertently misrepresent the truth which I have no wish to do.
I also previously explained this was such a very complex issue that affects such a wide range of different disabled groups in different ways, the story would have to be told in stages to truly get the message across, so I am starting with the TSG " Parents Voice " formation meeting that I chaired on Tuesday 7th March.
Just to explain, TSG is a group of parents which includes my wife and  myself with an Adult son or daughter with a learning disability and some with an additional physical disability.  Some parents have 2 children in this category. Some fought a campaign approximately 5 years ago to avoid their children being forced out into the community, along with many of their more able bodied peers. Needless to say many benefitted from this programme, and some were  not justifiable candidates for being forced out into the  Care in the Community  programme . However the TSG service user children or wards  fell between a rock and hard place, they were not disabled enough to require one on one care, but neither were they or are they capable of managing in the community on their own. Therefore they were not considered viable candidates to participate in the Care in the Community Programme ( I think that is what the programme  was called ). Which begs the question, as none of the TSG groups children or wards  have improved over this 5 year period, if being forced out into the community was seen just five years ago as an unacceptable destination for this group then why is it an acceptable destination for them now? Does the profitability of a private company that was not an area for consideration  5 years ago, now take precedent on all decisions now rather than quality of support services and the peace of mind of parents.
After a long hard fought battle with the  London Borough of Barnet (LBB), it was finally conceded that yes this group did fall between a rock and a hard place, and as a consequence a new centre was purpose built and leased to LBB to meet the needs of this small group and It was called "THE SPACE" and it is in Edgware (and now re-named Community Space). With the promise that this would be the long term answer to the fears of parents, that promise was made just about 5 years ago and in order to force through the LATC and maximise the profitability of that LATC that promise has been  broken big time. This LATC was sold to us on a false premise without meaningful consultation or choice or alternative, and the " Putting The Community First " 2010 Autumn edition with the heading " More Choices " was the presentation to TSG parents of what the formation of the LATC would mean for them and their child. It is a presentation document that is achieved by obfuscation as so many LBB responses to questions are today, it was described to me the other day as " a lesson in lying " which sounds about right.
On page 6 of this document headed " changes to services run by the council " it says . The law says that people cannot use their direct payments to buy services that are run by the council. Which is a statement open for debate and being considered by lawyers as we speak.

It also states quite specifically that "We need to start a new work place. This will be called a Local Authority Trading Company , and most importantly it goes on to say. " This Will Mean That Services Can Stay The Same  Just The Logo Is Different" if you are happy with the services " now", then you can stay and you will be able use your direct payments to buy these services.
The reality is the children and wards of  the TSG group  are slowly and definitively being evicted from their purpose built day centre, and dumped into church halls and in some cases rooms at the rear or the side of churches. The community of their peers where like all of us they once enjoyed the benefits of  social cohesion on an equal basis is now denied them. To cut a long sad and tragic story in many ways short, that I have previously visited on this guest blog . The services now provided  cannot be described in any way shape or form as it was in the Autumn 2010 edition as  "This Will Mean That These Services Can Stay The Same Just The Logo Is Different ".
LBB insist and continue to insist that all parents were meaningfully consulted and offered  choices and alternatives to the formation of this LATC hence presumably the name of the LATC " Your Choice Barnet" .So I asked the parents attending the meeting the following questions to which they responded with a show of hands. I use the word privatisation for simplicity rather than LATC.
1,Do you believe you were consulted on this privatisation in a meaningful and honest way.
Answer Every hand was raised to " No".
2,Do you believe you were misled regarding the promised outcomes of this privatisation.
Answer, Every hand was raised to " Yes ".
4, ( A ) Do you believe the changes have improved your peace of mind regarding provision of support services or ( B)  has your peace of mind been adversely affected.
Answer, Every hand was raised to "B".
5, Are you in any way concerned about the long term future provision of 5 day per week support services for your child / ward.
Answer, Every hand was raised to " yes "
6, Some say we were offered "No Choice" or " alternative ", so why is the LATC called " Your Choice Barnet ".  Q, Were you offered any alternative or choice ( this is a very important question )
Answer, All hands were raised to " No ".
7, Are you concerned that the Community Space facility will not be available to your child/ward in the near or foreseeable future.
Answer, All hands were raised to " Yes ".
8, Do you support the removal from the Community Space facility into rooms in churches.
Answer, All hands were raised to " No ".
9,Do you believe that a community hub such as the Community Space facility, that affords social cohesion with their own group of peers is a vital need and a human right of your child/ward and should be reinstated.
Answer, All hands were raised to " Yes ".
10, Do you believe that all church hall/room facility agreements should be scrapped and your children/wards returned to Community Space, and it be returned to a facility catering exclusively for people with LD.
Answer, All hands were raised to " Yes "
14, Do you believe the changes offer ( A)" More Choice as Promised or ( B ) "Less Choice ".
Answer, All hands were raised to "B"
And finally to avoid any ambiguity I asked   the following question 15.
15. Just for clarity and to avoid any ambiguity. Were you offered any other choice or alternative at any time during the run up to and the implementation to the changes to an LATC provider of services.
Answer, All hands were raised to a resounding  verbal and physical " No ".
From the beginning of this process towards the formation of this LATC I have repeatedly made it clear to the powers that be, that changes of this magnitude that affects so many already complicated lives in such a variance of different ways should be consulted on in an all inclusive manner at an open and all inclusive meeting. To ensure that everybody is aware of any benefits and also any pitfalls. This open and inclusive meeting has been repeatedly denied from day 1, and the powers that be even refused to support the distribution of invitations to all those affected to this 7th March meeting the terms of which were stated clearly on the invitations and a copy of which was made available to them. Which was a meeting for parents and friends only, and no invitation was afforded to this meeting for any representative  of LBB. In order that parents/carers could for the very first time in an all inclusive meeting speak openly and honestly without fear of reprisal. This comment may sound a little extreme, however the tragic reality is that one set of parents who attended and whose child is being  seriously adversely affected by the changes, asked not to be named because they fear reprisals against their child. One of the very reasons I refused the distribution aid from LBB or the LATC to this meeting. The support they did offer was once again on their terms, and denied an all inclusive meeting with parents/carers without the restriction of an LBB representative being present which is exactly what the invitation outlined.

I have often wondered why the powers that be have done everything in their power to stop an all inclusive and open meeting on the subject of the formation of this LATC being called for the TSG group, and I think the answers to the question put to this meeting spell it out very clearly. So when you read the literature being issued by LBB or the LATC about Meaningful Consultation and Choice, then please remind yourself of the answers from this group of parents/ carers who have many years of experience at the coal face and ask yourself this question. Who is Lying the parents , LBB or the  architects and forcers through of the formation of the LATC, more importantly who in your opinion benefits from these changes. The forcers through,? the disabled children or wards of the TSG group along with all disabled people in Barnet ?,or the coffers of LBB to the detriment of the disabled in Barnet ?.

I hope to be meeting soon with another affected group soon along with a follow up meeting with the TSG group, to further attempt to get to the truth about who benefits from the formation of the rather questionably named " Your Choice Barnet " LATC. I am therefore hoping that Roger will invite me back at a later date.
 John Sullivan is a parent carer for his daughter Susan and campaigner for disabled rights in the London Borough of Barnet. Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye.

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