Monday, 9 December 2013

Your Choice Barnet Week - Why did we feel angry and downhearted by guest blog by Janet Leifer

By Janet Leifer,

Members of Public gave an angry response to the Report on Your Choice Barnet Ltd presented to the Safeguarding Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 27 November 2013. Why did we feel angry and downhearted? Why did we shout out in protest? According to the report there was room for improvement in process in Your Choice Barnet.  There was a need to look at staffing levels and areas of potential business growth.  The potential benefit of establishing an overarching charitable arm or friends group was recommended to improve funding and maximise tax efficiencies.  The Council should have additional representation on the Your Choice Barnet Board.  Good to see Your Choice Barnet should be working on making a profit, but profit for whom?

(Video Clip Below - Janet Leifer addresses the Safeguarding Overview and Scrutiny Committee)

There is an interesting relationship between Your Choice Barnet Ltd. and its senior managers and the London Borough of Barnet and its senior officers.  Your Choice Barnet is a private company, with its own Board, set up by Barnet Council.  Barnet Council is the only shareholder and the organisation which will receive any profits made.  It is also the principal funder of Your Choice Barnet.  Isn’t that nice and cosy?

The report recommends that Barnet Councillors  should be on the Your Choice Barnet Board, but the Chief Executive of the Barnet Group, which is responsible for Your Choice Barnet did not see the need to be a little more proactive in getting a service user on the Board.  The election of a Carer Director did not seem to be a very democratic process.  Never mind the Board is doing its best to ensure Your Choice Barnet makes a profit.  For whose benefit?

What about the service users and their families?  The report concluded that Your Choice Barnet delivered services to the quality expected by its customers.   This is based on looking at data provided by Your Choice Barnet and visiting three day services in one day, 45 minutes being allocated to each service.  The Task and Finish Group, made up of five councillors, did not think it necessary to speak to service users and their families directly before they produced the report.

When we suggested there was evidence that some customers were seeing a decline in services, officers of Barnet Council told us the running of services was an “operational” matter not to be discussed at this meeting.

So we could not hear why Community Space was closed to its members on Fridays and they now had to be taken out and about in the community, which seems to involve long walks in the open air regardless of the weather.   Neither did we find out why the staffing levels were not adequate to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Community Space service users when they were taken out and about.

Neither could we discover if service users at Flower Lane were going to be sent to Community Space on a Friday so that there would be room at Flower Lane to bring in referrals from outside the Borough of Barnet.  Service users at Flower Lane are autistic and so need to know things will stay the same and that their routine will not change.  Nice to know that referrals from outside the borough will help to generate a profit for Your Choice Barnet

Barnet Council officers were equally unable to disclose to the families of service users at Barnet Independent Living Services where they would be based after April 2014. They too may be out and about in the community.  A challenge for them, as they find it very difficult to walk very far.  The building they use is due for demolition in 2016 and perhaps Your Choice Barnet has other plans for the building from April 2014 until its demolition.  Perhaps another profit making venture?

Then there is the question of transport.  How do you get service users to their day centres on comfortable, safe and appropriate transport?  This is a problem for Barnet Council who is trying to spend less money on special transport arrangements.  What’s wrong with public transport?  After all it is accessible to wheelchair users and surely passengers could reassure distressed service users and come to their assistance.  If there is no way of getting to a day centre, then of course service users can no longer access their services.  Does this matter?

Let’s not forget charges.  Service Users at Community Space do not pay for activities if they take place in Community Space, but if they take place out and about in different venues service users are charged.  Then there is the possibility that Your Choice Barnet may want to charge service users VAT.  Not to mention personalised budgets and direct payments, which cause confusion for all.

Service users and their families are struggling through all this and so are the staff who continue to look after them with great care, despite restructuring and benchmarking.  However Your Choice Barnet is bent on pursuing its policy of making itself profitable.  For whose benefit and at whose expense?   Well, these are “operational” matters that do not come within the scope of this report.
Do you feel angry, concerned, ashamed that residents in Barnet are having to endure all this?
Janet Leifer is a Barnet resident and campaigner for disabled rights. Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye

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