Council accused of misleading public over care home closures

Kent Council has been reported to the Audit Commission, accused of misleading the public in a consultation on care home closures.

Liberal Democrat member Trudy Dean accused the Conservative council of withholding information about its commitment to a £75m private finance initiative (PFI) to turn three care home sites into extra care housing.

She claimed the sites could not be changed without runnng the risk of contractors claiming compensation worth millions from the council.

However, Kent has denied that it faced liability. It said it had not entered into a PFI agreement, as this was subject to council approval of the plans, and the intention was to sign the agreement later this year. 

The council has now approved plans to close, redevelop or sell 11 of its care homes, despite strong opposition.

The consultation, launched last June, revealed that the council had secured funding to develop extra care housing on the sites but did not elaborate.

Dean, who chairs a committee that scrutinises council decisions, said: “When you ignore many objections [to the plans] you need to be sure that the consultation exercise was fair in the information that was given to the public and the council members when they made their decision. In this case, the council was not wholly fair.”

The council plans to turn the three homes into extra care housing and other care provision. But, during the consultation, local people campaigned for one home, Bowles Lodge, to be kept as an enhanced advance respite centre.

Dean said the council had already tied its hands and could not adopt the revised plans without great financial risk.

But council director of operations Margaret Howard said: “We made it clear that members had a choice to go for extra care or not.”

An evaluation panel rejected alternative development sites to those put forward in the consultation.

Dean added that the evaluation was conducted by council officers and lacked independence. Howard said the suggestions failed to meet the council’s objectives for the redevelopment of the residential services.

Kent’s cabinet member for adult social services, Graham Gibbens, added: “Kent Council is confident that the consultation was run well and gave everyone involved a chance to talk openly and in detail about what they thought. The audit commission will, of course, get full co-operation and the help they need as they look into this matter.”

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