FBU to strike over closures?

From the local papers – Rugby Observer:

But all the fire stations would have been saved if an amendment by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties had been carried

Labour Coun[cillor] Richard Chattaway led a motion for all the fire stations to remain open along with a comprehensive plan showing how current resources could be juggled to ensure all the improvements the Conservatives had said could be made as a result of the closures could still be carried out.

In other words, the Labour group offered a new option which would improve services, keep all of the retained stations and not cost any more money, and the Tories rejected it.

This is about cuts.

From the Coventry Telegraph:

After the crucial vote yesterday, Warwickshire Fire Brigades Union chief Mark Rattray said legal action against a “flawed consultation” would be examined – as well as a strike to protect people’s lives and firefighters’ jobs.

Chief fire officer Graeme Smith responded by saying: “I don’t think it’s in the interests of public safety for strike action, which would put the public at risk.”

But, in an interview with the Telegraph, he could not rule out the closures resulting in potentially fatal increases in journey times for crews responding to 999 calls.

I don’t think that the FBU want to strike (and I assume that most of the people losing their jobs would be represented by the Retained Firefighters Union rather than the FBU anyway, so it’s not simple protectionism), but it’s interesting to see that there is an admission that there could be lives at risk as a result of the closures.

Looking at the way that councillors voted, two Tories from Warwick voted against, and one (Philip Morris-Jones, who represents the Fosse district) abstained. All other Tories from the Rugby area, including the councillor who represents Brinklow (Heather Timms) either voted in favour of the closures or were not in attendance. All Liberal and Labour councillors there voted against the closures.

Update: It is now evident that Heather Timms was present but was unable to vote as she has a relative who works for the Fire Service.

Brinklow Fire Station to close

So, after a full public consultation (result – tens of thousands of responses, the vast majority against closure), and a six month delay to avoid it being an issue at the General Election (would the Tories have achieved a clean sweep of Warwickshire seats if this had been decided before May? I doubt it), the decision has been made.

As predicted yesterday, the council chose option ‘B’, which was to close three retained stations: Brinklow, Warwick and Studley. All are not far from the West Midlands border, and so in effect we are hoping that the Fire Service there will provide extra assistance. The Fire Service claim that this isn’t about cuts, but acknowledge that it will save about £100,000 a year. Dozens of retained fire fighters will lose their positions, and more will be expected of nearby stations.

The 34 councillors in favour of the three closures were all Conservatives, while one, Angela Warner, voted against, and one, Phillip Morris-Jones, abstained. (source – Coventry Telegraph)

This is just the beginning. The ‘Big Society’ will not be able to replace fire fighters.

Decision day tomorrow for Fire Service

The latest from the Cov Telegraph is that tomorrow the County Council will choose the ‘middle’ option, and close three of the fire stations in the county – Brinklow, Warwick and Studley.

The station getting the reprieve is at Bidford-on-Avon. I notice that the council cabinet member who is recommending this option represents the Aston Cantlow ward, which is within a few miles of…. Bidford-on-Avon. I’m sure this is just a coincidence.

Fire Station closures – the effect on Coventry?

Another report from the Coventry Telegraph (articles seem to be appearing there far more frequently than in the Rugby Observer, and the Advertiser hardly puts any content out on the website) on the debate arising on fire stations – Rumours to learn Warwickshire routes quashed by West Midlands Fire Service. Not too sure about the grammar in that headline, but the story is that a fireman from Coventry said that he and colleagues had been told to gen up on routes in Warwickshire, and that his bosses deny that there’s been any changes.

Now, I expect that fire crews near the borders of counties would need to cover each other – back home there’s a station in Horley, in Surrey, that is part of West Sussex Fire Service. But it’s also true that removing a station in Brinklow would likely mean that more cross-border support from the West Midlands is needed in Warwickshire.

The Tories and care homes

Still more news of ‘service reconfigurations’ from Warwickshire County Council. Not fire stations (that’s for another post), but care homes for the elderly.

On Tuesday, the Coventry Telegraph reported Ten care homes to be axed in Warwickshire? which told us that John Bolton, the interim director of Adult Services at Warks CC, had been in charge of similar plans in Coventry in recent years. The closures could save up to £4 million a year, and the issue has been brought up because of the impending cuts in central government funding.

On Wednesday, the Telegraph had an updated story – The future of 10 Warwickshire care homes could be in jeopardy – which includes more information about the possible impact. There are 240 residents in the ten homes, plus another 40 people who use the same buildings as respite. The closures would be phased over ‘several years’, and the idea is to replace the service with Extra Care Housing (ECH) places.

ECH is a lot cheaper, and while it does give the more active elderly residents more independence, it is not always appropriate for everyone, at least that’s what the Chief Executive of Age Concern said.

And yesterday (Thursday), there was a further report on the Telegraph’s website – People have ‘nothing to fear over care home closures’ says council chief which tells us that the new ECH places would be provided by ‘independent organisations’ (for that we can read private companies in it for profit).

The local NHS say that some people have been put into the existing homes as needing nursing care when they don’t actually, they are just not able to go home, and point to a lack of options. But these plans seem to be replacing one single option (care homes with nursing) with another (extra care).

So, over the week the picture is building up. Ten care homes will be closed. They will be replaced by private residential ‘extra care’ homes that have double the capacity, but if West Sussex is anything to go by, a fair number of the places will be reserved for private paying customers rather than people paid for by the County Council.

The Tories and Brinklow Fire Station

According to the Rugby Observer, the proposals for reconfiguring Warwickshire’s Fire Service come in three options, all of which include the closure of the station at Brinklow, which is manned by retained firefighters and is often called upon to support Rugby. Warwick’s station is also in all three options.

In terms of total impact, the closure plans are not as bad as it was first feared, with a maximum of four stations being closed as opposed to a possible seven. Still, it would affect up to 100 retained firefighters, and has raised concerns amongst the public and neighbouring fire services about the level of cover.

And of course it seems highly suspect that the Tory council decided to put off a decision until after the General Election, in which the Tories won all the seats in the County. Would that have been the case if these closures had not been seen to be shelved soon after Christmas?

Tracking the cuts

Now that the coalition government has set its course – Cuts, Cuts, Cuts – I think we need to be wary of what the effects of them are. It’s easy for the government and propagandists to make out that the public sector are simply ‘mooching’ from the private sector. The reality is more complex than that:

While the public sector is paid for out of taxation (including duties, fees for services etc), and that mainly will come from the rest of the economy, it is also true that the public sector buys goods and services from the private sector. Also, everyone employed by either sector will be acting in both sectors. Public sector employees buy things from shops. Private sector employees get healthcare which means they don’t have to take as much time off work as they might otherwise. Trying to pretend the two are competitors and there’s no interaction beyond tax and spend is at best naive and at worst outright dishonest.

So, now that England are out of the World Cup, and now that it’s taken a few weeks for the new government to settle in and set out it’s stall, I’m trying to find out what the actual effects of cuts are, and particularly where it concerns Rugby and the local area.

Here’s a start:

Warwickshire County Council are looking into reducing the subsidies that are supporting the provision of day care and respite care for adults. If the changes go ahead, then the costs of care for some of the most vulnerable adults in the county could well soar.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/coventry_and_warwickshire/10449864.stm

http://www.stratford-herald.com/mainstory.php?ID=2411

In the next three weeks (on July 20th), Warwickshire County Council will make a decision on whether to close rural fire stations. The original proposals brought out a lot of opposition and the Council put off their deliberations until after the elections (can’t think why they might do that). It’s claimed not to be about cutting costs, but a lot of people locally are not convinced.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/coventry_and_warwickshire/10318180.stm

The future of the A&E unit at St. Cross Hospital is being reviewed, with a further limit to the types of cases that can be treated there being suggested. Again, it’s not supposed to be about cutting costs, but about improving services.

http://www.therugbyobserver.co.uk/news22590.html

How Tory councils make cuts…

Warwickshire County Council (WCC) recently decided to open out the Meals on Wheels service to tender at the end of the contract to the WRVS, which expired at the end of April. The winners of that process were ‘County Enterprise Foods’ (CEF). The criteria were wide, but the main aspect was, of course, cost. I’ve looked too see what the savings are, but it’s difficult to know. The contract is worth a shade over £1M a year for the next three years, and an option for a fourth.

The result: Hungry Pensioners Left Without Food (Rugby Advertiser)

So who are County Enterprise Foods? Well, they grew out of Nottinghamshire County Council, and are still owned by it. They supply canteen services to Notts, and the City Council in Nottingham, as well as to Rotherham. Last year they merged with the Notts Meals on Wheels service, and since then have looked to gain contracts elsewhere. Warwickshire was one of the first outside Nottinghamshire to award a Meals on Wheels contract to CEF. Apparently it was expected that up to two thirds of the WRVS staff would transfer to CEF, although according to this report in the Nuneaton News, not everyone involved with the WRVS knew about thet changes, so I wonder whether that did actually happen. Of course, volunteers are not staff, but perhaps WCC and CEF overlooked the fact that WRVS were providing services using volunteers. Another Nuneaton News report suggests that the impact is wider, as a social club that uses the WRVS facilities may well be unable to function.

CEF are described in the NN reports as being based in Warwick, and being ‘not for profit’. Well, interestingly, Nottingham County Council are expecting that the contract will produce a ‘surplus’ of £100,000 a year (pdf). They will have an operation in Warwick, but it seems that this isn’t much use if food is not getting out and people can’t contact them to find out what’s going on.

The WRVS provided their services six days a week, and CEF were offering a full seven-day-a-week supply. Of course, it seems that for some people, it’s been over seven days since they had anything from CEF under the new contract.

One thing to note is that the new contract came about under a new Tory administration. Clearly they were looking to cut their bills, and it seems that they have not taken the care to ensure that frontline services are not affected. The move from a voluntary organisation to a company owned by another Tory-controlled council also looks like a kick in the teeth to the ‘Big Society’ idea.

Is this the future under a new Conservative-led government?

The value of friendship

Further to the Martin Heatley expenses affair (these three posts), I decided to look at who was sitting on the Standards meeting that gave him the stern punishment of having to pay back £200 out of £2800 in overclaimed expenses, and make an apology before doing the training he should have done years ago on how not to be a naughty boy.

The three members were the Independent Chairman, John Bridgeman CBE and County Councillors John Vereker CBE and Tim Naylor. I had seen an allegation that one of these was, along with Cllr Heatley, a Freemason.

Looking at the registers of interest, I see that indeed, Cllr Vereker lists the Freemasons Grand Charity on his interests. Cllr Heatley lists “Grand Charity 281943” as an interest also. This number is actually that of the Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, but this appears to be a slip of the pen/keyboard as the Grand Charity run by the Freemasons is 281942 (of course, it may be a deliberate attempt to make it hard to link Heatley with the Freemasons)

This means that indeed, both Cllr Heatley and one of his adjudicating panel do seem to be involved in the Freemasons. This smells very fishy indeed.

Martin Heatley – a little remiss?

A few snippets that I’ve gleaned from the complaints about Cllr Heatley’s ‘accidental’ over-claiming, by reading the officers’ report into the investigation that can be found on Keith Konkagor’s  website (link):

1) He had signed undertakings to abide by the Councillors’ Code of Conduct in May 2005 and again in June 2009. But he claimed not to have received any training on it (odd, he’s been a councillor for 16 years, and these started coming in way before 2005). Turns out that he missed the last two opportunities to attend training. So, what kind of person signs up to something and doesn’t take the time to understand what it means?

2) When travelling to and from Warwick from his home, he claimed mileage for 52 miles. The shortest route (which is what most companies will use) is about 36 miles. Going via the A46 past Coventry would be about 45 miles – I checked these myself on googlemaps. When claiming for mileage to and from Nuneaton railway station, he put down 10 miles for the round trip, when the distance should be 3 miles each way. This is in contravention of expenses rules.

3) When travelling by train to London, he often claimed for a First Class ticket, which is more expensive than a standard class ticket bought on the day of travel, even if booked in advance. This is in contravention of the expenses rules.

4) The original complaint concerned recent claims, but the investigation by the council went over the period 2009-2009. It was estimated that the over-claim on trips to and from Shire Hall in this period alone amounted to over £2,000. It was also established that this had been ongoing for some time before 2007.

5) He didn’t fill out claim forms properly, ostensibly to save money on paperwork, and didn’t include a description of the meetings/or duties when doing so. This is in contravention of the expenses policy

6) Taking a sample of car journeys claimed for other than to and from the Shire Hall or Nuneaton Station, it was found that the total distance claimed for was about 25% higher than the shortest distance by road would be, which is what should have been claimed for.

7) He claimed that using First Class rail travel was partly done because it offers greater privacy when discussing senstive matters. Last time I was on a Virgin or Midland train, the First Class carriage was not made up of private booths, and so it’s not much less private than standard class. He surely shouldn’t be openly discussing such matters on the train anyway?

8 ) He also said that Virgin offered a special rate for businessmen who travel first class, so it was cheaper. Virgin do not offer such a rate, and even by booking advance tickets he was claiming more than he would if he’d bought a standard ticket on the day of travel. The estimated overclaims for 2007-2009 for this came to about £600

9) The double claim was for travel to a Planning training event in Swansea, for which claims went in in both August and September 2007. There were in fact two meetings for which he claimed where he was not listed as attending – for one of those he sent apologies for absence.

From this, I can only conclude that the amount he’s had to repay is the bare minimum based on a double claim and claims for meetings he didn’t go to. But that came to about £200, and it’s estimated that over £2600 has been over paid to Cllr Heatley over the period 2007-9.

Not keeping proper records, not filling in the forms properly, coming up with vague reasons for long journeys and not taking the training that he should have are not excuses for the over claiming. Indeed, they suggest to me that he has generally been failing in his obligations

Indeed, reading Mr Kondakor’s comments, and the claim forms that were obtained from a Freedom of Information request, it seems that there were other oddities:

  • A 100-mile round trip to Leicester, which is 22 miles from his Nuneaton home
  • A 20 mile round trip to Bermuda Village, which is at the end of the road his farm is on, and over the A444
  • A claim of 40 miles for a round trip to Coventry (about 10 miles away depending where it was he was going t0) on the 32nd March 2009

The report itself is damning. I can’t understand how he got away so leniently. Is Mr Kondakor right about the compostion of the committee that met to decide the complaint on Monday?