Matthew Offord MP for Hendon is rather keen on cheese. He mentioned to a local resident during the 2010 general election campaign that he'd like to see an independent cheese shop open in Mill Hill. Sadly this is one promise that Matthew Offord has singularly failed to deliver on. But you may ask, what has this got to do with "Your Choice Barnet", the private company set up by Barnet Council to provide care and services for disabled and vulnerable people in the London Borough of Barnet?
Consider why Your Choice Barnet was set up by Barnet Council. In three words "to save money". You may ask "How can you save money in adult social care?". The answer is simple "Provide less services, provide lower quality services and charge more for services". Disabled campaigners will tell you that all of these options have been exploited. It is like Mill Hill Broadway. Can you buy cheese? Yes of course you can, but can you get the cheese you want? Well if you want a lwo quality cheese to grate on top of your toast, yes of course you can, there are three convenience stores, Iceland and Marks and Spencers, who will supply you a a passable budget cheese. If you want something a bit more upmarket, M&S also have a whole shelf full of stilton, brie and fine cheddars. But if you visited France and you want a specific fine cheese, then forget it. Now 95% of people will get by just fine with the cheeses available in Mill Hill Broadway, but for five percent, their requirements are not met and they are left high and dry. A specialist cheese shop has an expert, who knows their customers and if they haven't got a particular cheese in, will make sure they get it for the customer next time. The customer pays far more for this tasty treat than they would for Iceland processed cheese, but they get what they require.
In the Your Choice model, costs are cut. Invariably this means staff with experience are replaced with less experienced, cheaper staff. When dealing with people with disablilty and special needs, there really is no substitute for experience and a trusting relationship with clients. Knowing the individual needs and requirements of clients can literally be the difference between life and death. Knowing that a client has issues eating, that can cause choking, or likes to run behind cars as they reverse, or likes jumping out of windows is essential. Knowing when a client is getting ready to do something "unusual" or is upset only comes with years of experience and a personal relationship. One huge difference between our cheese merchant and a carer is that if a cheese merchant is not up to their job, a customer doesn't get a tasty snack they want (clearly something deeply upsetting to our local MP), whilst when a carer is't up to it, their client could hurt themselves or even die. Sadly our local MP seems oblivious to this
Next week, this blog is holding "Your Choice Barnet Week". We will be featuring guest blogs from people affected by the outsourcing of care to YCB and you will hear stories from people at the coal face of care in Barnet. The problem with Barnet Council and Your Choice Barnet is that they are aware of the price of everything and the value of nothing. Ultimately, in all things, from cheese to social care, what you pay for is what you get. Whilst cheese is a luxury, social care isn't. Whilst no one dies if a cheese shop sells you the wrong cheddar, an inexperienced carer can cost a life.
Your Choice Barnet was set up with a flawed business model. It needed a bale out of over £1 million to keep it afloat, after less than a years trading. The "recovery plan" talks of cost cuts and "increasing commercial opportunities". Can anyone tell me how any of this benefits the people Your Choice is meant to look after? Barnet is a rich Borough. If council tax had been raised for each household by the cost of a lump of bog standard cheddar from Iceland per week, no one in Barnet would have starved. This would have easily covered the cost of the service reductions. There have been savage cuts to the budget for transporting the disabled, resulting in many people losing access to activities, consigning them to loneliness and loss of contact with friends. Do you really begrudge them that contact, for the price of a piece of cheese? This is the reality of council cuts