CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans to transfer a Kingswinford care home out of local authority control say they are taking their complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman.
Members of the New Bradley Hall Action Group descended on Dudley Council House last night (Tuesday) to have their say at the council’s adult, community and housing scrutiny committee where they were told the process of finding a not-for-profit organisation to take over the council-run home was well underway and could not be halted.
Angry protestors slammed the decision-making process, led by cllr Dave Branwood – cabinet member for adult, community and housing services - as a “done deal” and group spokesman Phil Vanes accused the council of “misleading” the public and failing to consult properly on the matter.
During an impassioned speech - Mr Vanes said: “This scrutiny meeting in our view is merely to give some form of credibility to a decision that has already been made.”
And he went on: “Fortunately for us, in their haste to do the deal to get New Bradley off the books, Councillor Branwood’s department did not follow the correct procedure before announcing that New Bradley Hall was to be outsourced.
“The council did not give the people affected by the proposed ‘outsourcing’ a sufficient timescale to get involved.
“They moved from announcement to ‘done deal’ in one fell swoop.”
He said the decision to transfer the 31-bedroom home, which employs 40 staff, to a charity or other organisation was made on September 27 and the decision sheet was signed off on October 25 – “four weeks later in secret”.
He said the last date for a judicial review to be brought by concerned parties would have been January 24, with the deal due to be concluded by April 4, and he added: “Whatever objections anybody has it’s too late for any legal redress in the courts.
“We feel the people of Dudley have been misled.”
He went on to say: “We have emails from Cllr Branwood taking us to task quite forcefully for reporting conversations, where the term ‘done deal’ was inferred; he told us that it wasnt a ‘done deal’ quite assertively and he frightened us and convinced us into believing him. But we now discover it was all true."
He also said the council had “messed up” the required consultation process, adding: “They are claiming legitimacy for their current proposal from a previous consultation in 2012 and unfortunately for them that offered entirely different circumstances.
"At no point was the question of outsourcing put before the residents, their relatives, the action group or the wider population of Dudley in any way.
He continued: “From June to September last year, the New Bradley Hall Action Group continually asked questions and tried to find out what was going on, only to be either ignored, stonewalled or, me personally, ranted at down the telephone by Cllr Branwood and told not to contact him again.”
“No-one so much as received a letter, a phone call or any indication whatsoever of what was going to happen, even though we now know the fate of New Bradley Hall had already been signed off. There was no meaningful consultation.”
The committee, however, rejected a motion put forward by Dudley's Tory leader - Kingswinford councillor Patrick Harley - to suspend the transfer of the home until the council's legal team could clarify that all processes had been followed correctly.
Cllr Branwood said he would request a full response from the council's legal services department and he stressed: "At every single stage of the process legal advice has been sought and followed to the letter. There's no doubt in my mind that the process has been followed properly."
He said weekly up-date meetings had been held at the home, for which the council has received 13 expressions of interest, and he added: "We've made sure this process has been as open and transparent as possible".
His words, however, did little to calm members of the action group who were left seething after assistant director Matt Bowsher confirmed £750,000 worth of repairs, listed in a report as needed at New Bradley Hall but too expensive to carry out, could in fact be spread over the next decade as part of "long-term refurbishments" rather than all at once.
Action group chairman Mac Scott branded the meeting a "waste of time" and added: "This is meltdown. It's a wrong example of how to run a council."