Words: Richard Beecham
A heated row over the future of care homes in Leeds took place at a Leeds City Council meeting this week.
The decision by the authority to close two care homes – Richmond House in Farsley and Home Lea House in Rothwell – was made back in February, and is expected to save the authority just over £1.5m next year.
But opposition councillors have criticised the proposal, claiming money should be found elsewhere to keep the homes open, with many criticising the council’s decision to spend £10m on its 2023 cultural events programme.
Labour councillors hit back, saying there is less demand for these kind of services and highlighting Government funding cuts.
Conservative councillors “called in” the move – meaning a board of councillors had to discuss whether the council should reconsider the decision.
Presenting the call-in to a meeting of Leeds City Council’s Adults and Health Scrutiny Board, Coun Caroline Anderson (Con, Adel & Wharfedale) said:
“I acknowledge completely the financial challenge the council faces, but there are other choices that could be made.
“We have had numerous amounts of money from Government during Covid, and this is a very blunt way of doing it – it is very easy just to say ‘we are going to close two care homes’ to save £1.5m.
“The consultation process was a farce and gave people false hope.
“We are taking away an offer from the city that people need.
“If demand is reduced, we are going to need more respite care. Taking facilities away is not making us the best city to grow old in.
“Occupation during Covid is not an indication of the future use of care homes or respite care.”
Coun Amanda Carter (Con, Calverley & Farsley), who co-signed the call-in, added:
“I took some time to speak to my constituents who are carers – they said ‘they won’t listen, they don’t care, you won’t make any difference’, but I’m going to say it anyway.”
“One lady told me ‘sometimes I’m so tired I want to scream and shout, but I can’t do that because the person I look after would be on the end of it’.
“Throughout Covid, people have been looking after elderly people – they have been isolated had to take it all on their own shoulders. This facility is the only one in the outer west – there is nowhere else.
“Sending them to another part of Leeds which is hard for them to get to, they feel guilty enough as it is without all of that.
“It isn’t like you don’t have the money. £12m for city of culture and you can’t look after front-line services? That’s what my constituents are saying to me.
“They are concerned, worried and frightened.”
Home Lea House is a 29-bed long-stay residential home in Rothwell – it currently houses 18 residents and has a gross annual budget of £789,000. The council’s other care home in Rothwell is Dolphin Manor, which a recent council report claimed was under occupied.
Richmond House is a 20-bed residential service in Farsley. It offers short-term care and support to people who require convalescence following a hospital admission. Council officers said average occupancy since 2018/19 is 55 per cent and its gross budget is £742,000.
A report by Leeds City Council officers claimed the closures would contribute annual savings of £1.531m to the council’s £118.8m budget gap for 2021/22. It added the decision would allow the council to meet its legal requirement to be financially stable, and insisted residents will be looked after.
Board member Coun Eileen Taylor (Lab) responded to Coun Carter and Coun Anderson:
“After reading the report, I agreed with the administration of what we are doing.
“Service users will not be deprived of anything, and why should we take funding from one budget to another budget?
“I had felt for the resident that spoke to you. I am passionate about the elderly.
“Your Government is taking £20 a week of universal (credit) from young people who don’t have food on their table. I don’t recall any Conservative fighting their Government to replace that.
“These elderly people won’t be uncomfortable. When kids go to bed hungry, that is a different thing – their education suffers. I would rather Leeds City Council could give that £20 to parents to feed their kids, while the elderly can be somewhere comfortable, then everybody would be happy.”
Coun James Gibson (Lab) added:
“People now opt for community services and we are seeing a reduction in demand for (care home) services. It shouldn’t come as a shock.
“We will see a reduction in both residential services, both privately and publicly-owned.
“What would be preferable would be to wind down these services naturally, to stop new referrals. But that is wildly expensive to do and I’m sure we would be criticised by elected members and the public for doing that.
“Coun Carter’s points are specious economic arguments that no doubt sound very good on a leaflet, but you know as well as I do that it is a false economy. You know the way local Government finance works – you can’t take money from one pot, and spend it on adult social services.
“You talk about the capital of culture money, it is about investing money in the city so we get a return. We are speculating but we will accumulate to have more resources to spend on services – you know that.”
During a consultation on the closure, more than 141 individual letters of objection were sent into the council, as well as three petitions with more than 1,000 signatures.
Coun Conrad Hart-Brooke (Lib Dem, Rothwell) said:
“Coun Gibson has come in with his mind made up. I am in one of the wards affected, I know people in the homes, I know many of the people who sent in the responses, and almost every single one is against it.
“The idea that there is no love or demand or need for this facility is frankly ridiculous.”
As things stand, Richmond House expected to be decommissioned by November 2021, and Home Lea House by February 2022.
Coun Elizabeth Nash (Lab) said:
“I cannot understand how the Conservatives and Lib Dems think that the council is a bottomless pit.
“The latest debacle was when the Government said spend as much as you need for adult social care then reneged on the promises.
“I have read that the homes are on a woefully low occupation rate. The viable homes are 40 residents – how these homes have kept going all this time, I just do not know.
“If you could tell us where we are going to get some more money to keep running very small homes, then I will listen to you.
“Have you spoken to your MPs? Have you got them to lobby the Government for more funding for local government? I bet you haven’t.”
Coun Graham Latty (Con) said:
“I do really regret the fact that at times, this has descended into political slanging. This is about older people. I’m an older person – I know how they feel.
“We are talking about taking money from a service that is going to deny older people of a place they love to live in.
“We do say that Leeds has this desire to be a place where it is great to grow old. We should add ‘providing you don’t live in Calverley or Rothwell’.”
The council’s executive member of adult and child social care Coun Fiona Venner (Lab, Kirkstall) said:
“There is a continuous decline in the demand for care homes and for home care. We have not based this decision on occupancy levels in the past year.
“Both homes have been under capacity for some time. There are a large number of good and outstanding care homes within a few miles of both homes.”
On claims the council was spending too much on cycle lanes and culture instead of social care, she added:
“Government funding for highways cannot be spent on social care. (The Leeds 2023 funding) is one-off expenditure in one year.
“If we do not close Richmond House or Homeleigh House, the funding would have to come from elsewhere within adult social care. The increased demand for adult social care is at the front door.”
Members narrowly voted to release the decision for implementation.
West Leeds Dispatch‘s Cutswatch series has been following the proposed cuts over the past few months here.
Follow WLD’s coverage of the Richmond House closure here.