DUDLEY Council misled residents and campaigners fighting to save New Bradley Hall care home in Kingswinford, according to a new report.
An independent investigator has partially upheld a complaint submitted by Phil Vanes of the New Bradley Hall Action Group accusing the council of misleading the public over the future of the home.
The report clears the council on two further accusations - that it failed to follow correct procedures while drawing up the plan to outsource the home and that campaigners were not given sufficient time to make their concerns known or seek legal advice on the matter.
But it supports the group's claim that the public was kept in the dark over changing plans for the home.
Action group members say they were under the impression the home would remain open as a council-run facility, for existing long-term residents, as Dudley Council had endorsed this option in June 2012 following a public consultation.
But to their surprise in September 2013 the cash-strapped council announced the home would instead be transferred to a not-for-profit organisation due to budget constraints.
Campaigner Phil Vanes said: “We were misled all the way through. I think they’ve been very unprofessional.”
The report states: “It could be said that the public have been misled on the basis that the council announced New Bradley Hall would remain open to existing residents however the provision of care had shifted to being provided by a not-for-profit organisation rather than the council themselves.”
Investigating officer Debra Johnson said she did not believe there had been a “deliberate attempt to mislead the public or New Bradley Hall Action Group” but she said there had been an absence of clear communication and documentary evidence between the decision to endorse Option C and the decision to transfer care to a not-for-profit organisation.
The report added: “It is clear that between June 2012 and September 2013 the residents, relatives, friends and people of Dudley were left in a position to believe that NBH would be kept open and existing residents would remain there.
“It would be fair to say that because the initial consultation paper declared that the care would be provided by the council there was no reason for the public to assume this aspect was to change especially as no one from the council or cabinet had alluded to such until it was announced publicly on September 27.”
Councillor Dave Branwood, Dudley's cabinet member for adult and community services, described the partially upheld complaint as the least important of the three investigated.
He added: “The independent investigator states specifically in her report that the council has not deliberately misled the public.
“The campaign group have been hijacked by influences from outside the political mainstream and have unfortunately lost the ability to consider this issue in any sort of balanced or rational way.
“We are losing £35 million from the care budget in Dudley but have delivered a solution which keeps the home open and protects jobs.”
The investigating officer said of the other two complaints - she was "satisfied" the council had followed due process with the initial consultation and in its decision-making "which was in line with Option C and with the council's long term budget constraints"; and that the council had made its plans known through the issuing of a press release on September 27 2013 and through a draft decision sheet published on October 18 2013 giving people five days to comment or raise objections.
Andrea Pope-Smith, Dudley’s director of adult, community and housing services, welcomed the report and said it confirms “the council acted appropriately and legally in relation to New Bradley Hall”.
She added: “We have, and always will, put the needs of the people in New Bradley Hall first throughout our work in transferring the home to a not for profit organisation.”
And she said a recommendation by the investigator to review the way the council records decisions and discussions would be carried out.
Black Country Housing Group has been confirmed as the preferred organisation to take over the running of the home and the organisation has pledged to spend £750,000 on improvements to the facility.
Under the deal existing residents will be able to remain at the home and permanent staff will be offered the chance to continue working at New Bradley Hall as employees of Black Country Housing Group.
In the meantime, the action group plans to take its complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman.