Tracey Lees, CEO The Barnet Group
Kate Kennally , Director Adult Services London Borough of Barnet.
I write to you collectively in an open letter to raise a few question that are of a real concern to me, I write to you both because you are two of the architects of the assessment and business model for the formation and launch of Your Choice Barnet, and copy in others involved in this exercise. Furthermore you hold between you in your individual positions of responsibility in both Your Choice & LBB, the ultimate responsibility for the stability and the viability of Your Choice Barnet, in order that LBB are in a position to honour their duty of care to the clients of Your Choice Barnet.
As you are aware individually I have challenged the formation and launch of Your Choice Barnet (YCB ) from the outset, I have always challenged the content of the " LBB putting The Community First newsletter of Autumn 2010 titled More Choices ". That was in effect or at least indirectly a sales brochure to encourage the formation of the LATC part of which is YCB, it made many claims few of which have been realised as a result of the privatisation of services.
Contrary to the sales brochures claims, there have not been more choices in fact in some ways there has been and is now less individual choice, there has not been more activity out in the community, the services have changed and not just the logo as promised, amongst other promises contained within this sales leaflet undertakings that have fallen on fallow ground and the vital benefits of a community hub have in many ways been lost. Furthermore the personal budget plans that were apparently so vital back in Autumn 2010, are still awaiting resolution in many cases including that of my own daughter.
I have repeatedly challenged the assertions of both LBB & YCB ( along with all relevant members of staff I have had these exchanges with), who claim my family were consulted on the formation of YCB. On the basis the one and only invitation we had to a meeting to discuss the formation of YCB was in no way consultative it was an informative meeting only, decisions had been made and parents /carers were being told what was to happen. There were no alternatives afforded us or other choices, therefore without options or choices consultation becomes impossible. I wrote expressing my concerns that the meeting called was a divide and rule meeting rather than an open meeting of all parents/carers that should have been afforded a voice an open and honest exchange of opinions. A meeting that at best would only afford me perhaps 4 or 5 minutes to voice my concerns in a public forum, on the future of support services for my daughter Susan. As a consequence and as advised in my letter I did not attend that informative non consultative meeting, because I feared at some later date it would be dishonestly represented as constituting a meaningful consultation which it so patently and obviously was not. With no surprise to me at all my letter was ignored, and that informative meeting has as feared been subsequently claimed as being a consultative meeting.
I am not as some would have it the only parent to have claimed I was not consulted with regard to the formation of YCB, as the result of a sequence of questions that were asked at the very first meeting of TSG Parents Voice Group at The Larches on 7th March 2012 qualify. The responses to the list of questions that were subsequently posted in a public forum on the Barnet Eye blog, http://www.barneteye.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/gust-blog-your-choice-means-no-choice.html demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that I was not and am not alone in claiming that my family had not been consulted on the formation of YCB
I further expressed my concerns about the long term viability of YCB what will the future hold for my daughter Susan and her peers in the event YCB like many privatised care businesses such as Southern Cross should fail. I was told that was not a possibility. I was concerned that the company could fail and some of my concern was based on the over egged and over exaggerated claims of profitability that had been presented to the Local authority to justify this indirect privatisation of this special section of public services. Some of my views were informed by the opinion of the document produced by European Services Strategy Organisation on behalf of Unison http://www.european-services-strategy.org.uk/news2012/local-authority-trading-company-latc-for-adult / which was apparently ignored .
I further expressed my concerns that the high quality highly valuable special people that made up the front line care workers team , would eventually be replaced by some means or other with cheap labour to maximise the profitability of the privatised company.
Not due to hindsight or being a psychic the tragedy is that all of my concerns have now reached fruition , I have so tragically been proven to have had good reason to be concerned because all of my claims have now been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. My concerns were based on years of personal and family experience of support services for my daughter, they were also based on short chats and five minute conversations with many members of staff and other parents/carers. I repeat I am not psychic I simply chatted with people asking what they thought, in fact I for want of a better word consulted with others in order to get a broad view of opinion.
I have asked many question of both YCB & LBB departments and straight answers have not been forthcoming, I have had obfuscation, misinformation refusal to answer questions directly and even on one occasion from a staff member of YCB a blatant lie. I tried to make a fresh start with both organisations, but the open and transparent no holds barred consultation I have sought has never been forthcoming. I have requested that as I did not have a list of names and addresses of all parents /carers affected, could the team leaders of YCB care workers hand out our TSG invitations to an open meeting to all parents/carers. Wherein we parents and carers could all express our opinions and concerns without being hampered by the presence of a YCB or LBB representative, with a view to inviting a representative of both YCB and LBB to a subsequent meeting at a later date. Sadly this request was refused in fact every effort appears to have been made by both YCB and LBB to ensure that all parents and carers could not congregate to openly express their views and concerns, and more importantly hear the views and concerns of others. In fact every effort to engage in meaningful consultation of both the formation of YCB and its effects on parents cares and clients appears to have been deliberately and energetically avoided.
Therefore with the launch of what is in effect a YCB Plan B released to the world on 1st march 2013 that is predicated in so many ways on the initial YCB Financial Business Case of 2011 which I will refer to as Plan A, which is in my humble opinion and that of many others doomed to fail as has Plan A . I would like to seek once again a new beginning and submit to you a number of questions that affect the future well being of my daughter and her peers which in effect relates to the peace of mind of my family and therefore the future well being of all of my family.
I genuinely hope the content of this letter is reflected upon before answering in full my direct questions if you decide to answer them that is, and that I am afforded straight answers to my very direct questions.
The direction of this whole process of the formation of YCB has been devoid of any democratic accountability openness, transparency and in many ways basic honesty or meaningful consultation , and it is my view that is the reason YCB has in effect collapsed. Showing losses in the first year in excess of £60,000 with a question mark still hanging over a further £300,000 plus pounds of potential debt and is also having to be bailed out to the tune of one million pounds.
I firmly believe this situation could have been avoided had the opinions of staff, parents, carers and others affected not been treated with such abject contempt, I further firmly believe that with meaningful consultation with all parties the current financial predicament of YCB could have been avoided. I would have thought by now the value of meaningful consultation the need for openness and transparency and integrity and honesty would have hit home . Sadly the content of the letter to the YCB parents/carers of 28th February a copy of which my family received , displayed when taken in the context of the plan B policy document released on 1st march just 24 hours later. A complete lack of transparency, openness, honesty or integrity and once again denied parents/carers the democratic right to have the full facts made available to them, in order they could have the democratic right to voice an informed opinion , yet again that democratic right has been denied us.
I repeat in effect the policy document released on 1st March 2013 is a relaunch of YCB, it is what might be described as a plan B , it is a relaunch that requires a bale out of one million pounds, it is in effect a new beginning. My concern is that plan B has been produced by the architects of plan A that has so spectacularly failed in less than a year, the assessment and business model that YCB was launched on has been found to be so fatally flawed it beggars belief, yet it forms the foundations for plan B. What further concerns me is the author of this consultation document ( Plan B ) has already resigned and will not be in place to oversee her own proposals, which instils little confidence in those affected. So as one of a number of concerned parents I would wish to take this opportunity for a new start a new beginning, and I would wish to ask a number of question either of my own or that have been put to me by affected and interested parties. All of which concern myself and my family directly, along with the future stability of the provision of the five day per week support service for my daughter. That has always been available to her based on her needs, and her needs have not changed and are not likely to change as she is now nearly 50 years old.
It is now patently clear that the original Your Choice assessment and business model presented to cabinet resources committee on 24th May 2011 that I refer to as Plan (A) was fatally flawed, and is followed by a Consultation paper of 1st March 2013 that I refer to as plan (B). That is predicated on many of the assumptions of Plan (A) and therefore in my humble opinion and the opinions of others better qualified than I doomed to fail.
Therefore will the council honour the undertaking at section 7.4 of the Cabinet Resources Committee meeting of 24th may 2012 " Commercial risk ultimately remains with the council and in the unlikely event of failure, the services need to be brought back in-house " and now bring these services back in-house as promised.
The Your Choice letter of 28th February to parents advising Parents / carers of the review of services the details of which are contained in the Consultation Paper of 1st march 2013. Can in no way be described as openly or transparently presenting the truth of the current position of Your Choice Barnet . There is currently a real risk for the future of YCB which in turn exposes a real risk to the provision of the long term future of support services for the YCB clients, and in turn their families carers, parents , and loved ones.
My question is therefore, do you intend to fully openly and transparently advise all affected and interested parties further, or do you feel as some might say the somewhat sanitised letter of 28th February to them from YCB , constitutes openness honesty, integrity and transparency.
In less than one year of trading YCB has had to borrow one million pounds to remain afloat and honour the contract with LBB, apart from this huge sum of money there is a question mark over a further sum in excess of £300,000-00 that appears to be owed to LBB and the losses of just 3 months ago quoted as being in the region of £20,000 are now just weeks later quoted as being in the order of £60,000.
My question therefore is, as this consultation paper is in the main devoid of the important cash analysis figures that are required to assist a true evaluation of the consultation document, is it possible the financial business case can be provided for this evaluation prior to consultation.
I am advised that in less than one week from the presentation of the Consultation Document of 1st March 2013 , that is quite clearly all about raising money by all and any possible means, to as clearly stated " be more competitive in the market place ". The decision to benchmark staff wages has been postponed, which raises the question how can Plan B succeed with one of the main planks of its fund raising determination i:e the reduction of staff wages and allowances having been removed.
My questions therefore are.
1, Was this hasty postponement due to the fact you have not carried out a benchmarking exercise.
2, Is the benchmarking exercise you refer to still ongoing, or planned to commence.
3, If the benchmark is still ongoing or about to commence, when do you anticipate its completion.
4, Once the benchmark exercise is complete from what date of the consultation period of 90 days, will the consultation of this aspect of plan B commence. From the date of receipt of the benchmark exercise, or from March 1st.
Or 4a. Once the consultation period on the benchmark exercise is completed, is it the intention to reinstate it as a part of Plan B and go ahead with the benchmarking of staff wages and allowances. as outlined in Plan B. If so will this be further consulted upon, or will the 90 day period from 1st March without this vital information remain the determination of the consultation period.
The coal face staff are the people the parents/carers rely upon they know our children and wards they deal like us with their issues on a daily basis, these are the people that have rightly earned our trust and our confidence. Unlike CEOs council officers and councillors who only think they know, and were to arrogant to consult meaningfully with these valuable and rare people in Plan A, and now refuse to consult with them regarding plan B. Many of whom are to be sacked or demoted and tossed aside like a pair of worn boots.
My question therefore is, why do you claim that the sacking and demotion of rare and in many ways irreplaceable staff, coupled with the reduction in staff wages and allowances will in no way demoralises staff and clients in general, where is the evidence to support this assumption.
Where is the evidence to support the claim that demoralised staff will not result in a reduction of the quality of staff commitment to the task, and as a consequence the quality of care and commitment provided to clients.
Most definitely where Community Space is concerned the experienced staff that were upgraded to team leaders to lead the way in the privatisation of services, and in many ways their efforts have saved the day over the past year are now to be sacked or demoted. It is these vital long term staff that have inducted and trained new recruits to the staff numbers, to ensure the welfare and the safety of the clients, and ensured new staff are properly trained and overseen at the coal face.
My question therefore is, how does either demoting or sacking these important members of staff help in their motivation and how does it add to the vitally important ongoing training of less experienced staff members. More importantly in what way does if improve quality of services and the well being and safety of the clients.
The recent horror story of Winterbourne View coupled with those of Mid Staffs Hospital now joined by an inquiry into care for the elderly, have all pointed the finger of blame for many of the problems experienced. On staff reductions, low pay, reduced pay, demoralisation, a lack of experienced staff with a vocation, lack of training and a lack of vitally important ongoing training.
My question therefore is, why is the direction of the consultation document of 1st March 2013 driving the support services YCB are responsible for, in precisely the opposite direction the inquiries for Winterbourne View Mid Staffs Hospital and Elderly Care in Residential or Home surroundings are suggesting is necessary to ensure a high standard of care.. They are calling for more staff, better paid staff, better trained staff with ongoing training and the list continues in the opposite direction of the March 1st consultation document. Which begs the question "WHY ".
It is interesting to note the use of the word Consultation on the front of the March 1st Document although how you can evaluate the content to prepare for consultation when the vitally important financial business case is in the main missing is another question. But having experienced the YCB and LBB definition of consultation with regard to both the closure of the Broadfields facility and the formation of YCB, where there was absolutely no consultation if the Oxford Concise Dictionary definition is to be believed. Telling people what is going to happen subsequent to decisions being made and not offering alternatives, in no way represents the definition of consultation.
My question therefore , is there any intention to meaningfully consult with all those affected in a meaningful , open and honest way as outlined in the Oxford Concise Dictionary Definition , or is the consultation going to be yet another bully boy and farcical box ticking exercise.
Personal Budget Plans.
The importance of Personal Budget Plans (PBPs) were a feature of the More Choices sales brochure of Autumn 2010 I refer to above, yet we have now reached 2013 and still some PBPs are not completed . In fact there was a recent meeting called at Community Space to advise parents / carers of the benefits or otherwise of PBPs on the 6th March 2013 ,which I hasten to add neither my wife or myself were invited to attend even though we are interested parties.
My question therefore is, as PBPs were so important in the sales presentation brochure of 2010, why has this important exercise not been fully completed before now.
Is there any truth in the suggestion I will not put it as strong as a rumour, that parents /carers are being encouraged to take up a PBP , only to realise subsequently the cash amount allocated does not cover the amount of the support services they have enjoyed to date, resulting in a reduction in the support services for their loved ones. Further resulting in what some might suggest duped parent/carer when realising the consequence of having taken out the PBP , being advised they cannot reverse the decision and are stuck with the decision they have made.
My question therefore is, if there is any truth in this suggestion/rumour , do you feel this approach is a demonstration of openness integrity and honesty.
My reading and understanding of the Government white paper launching PBPs suggests to me personally that PBPs were brought in to help and support disabled people that had the mental ability to function alone, and the inclusion of the category of people who do not have that mental capacity ,was never intended as a part of the intention of that policy proposal document . When I look around me and see the devastation of support services that has been undertaken in recent months and continues to progress, I grow concerned that the PBPs that were intended to support people are being used as a way for LBB to wash their hands of the problem and expense of disabled people. Much in the same way their hands have been washed of any definitive concern for the elderly, many of whom particularly those who have saved for their old age are left to their own devices and cut adrift from any support from LBB.
Which takes me back to my major concern which is the long term future of the provision of support services for my daughter and her peers, that is seriously at risk due to a failed privatisation. That now has a plan B rescue bid that is doomed to failure , unless profitability rather than quality of care is the focal point of any future concentration and consideration. I am increasingly concerned that the direction of policy adopted by YCB & LBB will result in people with LD and others with a disability, being left to their own devices as has proven to be the case in so many ways with the elderly .
My question therefore is,
Are PBPs being used in the manner originally intended, or are they being used as a dumping the problem of the disabled exercise ,and duping people to take them out that unwittingly results in the reduction of support hours for their loved ones. Are they being used to ensure profitability rather than quality of care, in order to repay the one million pound loan from Barnet Homes. In other words what is being put first quality of care which equates to quality of life for the clients, or paying back the debts.
Furthermore is there any truth in the suggestion parents /carers are being led to believe they have to take out a PBP, when that is simply not the case.
Will the financial business case for the loan of One Million Pounds from Barnet Homes to YCB be made available to the public, in order that it can be established whether or not repayment of debts is to take precedent over service provision in terms of support hours and service quality.
My final question which is an oft repeated question as was my question on consultation at the TSG meeting I refer to of 7th mach 2012.
Do you intend to consult fully openly and transparently with parents /carers of YCB clients, and will a part of that consultation include the taking back in-house of all services currently the responsibility of YCB.
Which was the undertaking made by LBB in the event the business model failed , as is being called for by many parents and trade unions concerned with the well being and long term future viability of support services of current YCB clients, that in my humble opinion have been placed in peril due to this ill considered misguided failed and fatally flawed YCB privatisation.
I am neither an eccentric socialist or a dinosaur in fear of the challenge of change, I am one of a number of parents living in fear for the future of their loved ones in my case my beloved daughter. I differ in many ways from other parents because it is my nature to speak out, rather than be intimidated and silenced for fear of retribution as some are.
I am a democrat who believes in the democratic right of a voice an opinion, transparency, honesty , openness and integrity, which is repeatedly denied to the residents of Barnet. Rather than what some might say constantly appears to be shady deals made behind closed doors, that appear to have become the norm in Barnet over the past few Years. I seek only openness and honesty and integrity and the democratic right to speak up and demand clarity on the long term future provision of support services for my daughter and her peers .
It has got to a stage where I fear with good reason attending any meeting called by YCB or LBB , for fear like the one and only meeting I was invited to. The outcome of the meeting will have already been determined, and then dishonestly represented by YCB / LBB as having been consultative when in fact it was informative.
Like many other parents I am growing old and whilst I had peace of mind with in-house services about the future of support services for my daughter and her peers, that peace of mind has now been destroyed. I now like many others fear for the future ,now profit has become king along with the fact to " be more competitive in the market place " is the benchmark rather than quality of care . Like many other parents and carers and people that truly care for those whose lives and future are in the hands of a very financially weak and shaky privatised LATC. I want my peace of mind back and the only way that can be achieved is to fight for the right to have the affected services brought back in-house, as was agreed from day one in the event of failure. I simply want LBB YCB to honour the agreement and undertaking quoted in my question number one above.
Like all parents blessed with a disabled child the first concern you have is " what will happen when I die ", and all I am asking is for some clarity some meaningful consultation some openness some honesty some integrity, the democratic right to be heard. That will hopefully put us on the path of the restoration of the peace of mind my wife and myself and all parents of a disabled child need, and answer my simple and very direct question " what will happen to her when I die "
I await your responses with interest and deep concern.
Mr John J Sullivan
father of Susan Tracey Sullivan.