However, from my point of view the most significant issue on the Council's agenda yesterday was in relation to Transforming Social Care - a programme I have led since May 2010 and written about here extensively.
The meeting where our proposed new policy was to be debated was the culmination of many weeks of deliberation and consultation, in which over one thousand individual responses were submitted by the public and over 27 consultation meetings held by Council officers.
This is the beginning rather than the end of a long process to make Reading's social care policies fairer and more sustainable.
I am pleased that this plan was agreed by Liberal Democrat and Conservative Councillors so we can move forward and ensure our services can meet the needs of the local population.
The response from Labour councillors was depressingly predictable as they attempted to use this sensitive issue to score political points ahead of the local elections rather than work with us to plan for the future.
Labour tabled a series of ill-conceived, ill-considered amendements which failed to help the Council meet its objectives in relation to adult social care and which were I'm pleased to say roundly rejected by Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors.
Overall I found the lack of understanding of the subject matter demonstrated by so many opposition councillors in their contributions yesterday evening deeply disappointing considering these plans have been known for some time and have gone through two scrutiny meetings, public consultation and more recently Cabinet.
Even if councillors couldn't be bothered to attend briefing meetings they would have found most if not all the answers to their questions in the detailed report to Council.
The debate inside the Council chamber at least is now over for the time being.
My priority from now on will be focussing on ensuring the implementation of these policies is carried out as flexibly and sensitively as possible by the Council's Community Care team which I lead.
For the record, the speech I made last night to introduce the report to Council is attached below:
"This report concerns one of the most important steps we as a Council must take: to Transform our community care services in Reading.
- To ensure our services protect the most vulnerable
- To ensure our services are sustainable
- To make best use of public money and local resources
- And to ensure our services are fair as possible to all
Cllr Orton who has been a councillor for far longer than I have said at Cabinet agrees “on principle” with what we are proposing tonight.
And during the Budget meeting he said that our plans “would protect the vulnerable”.
The report contains carefully considered plans to move to a system of care focussed around the needs of individuals in our community where:
- People who need social care in Reading receive it quickly and easily
- Elderly and vulnerable people are enabled to lead the most fulfilling lives they can
- Carers who selflessly provide care get the support they need
- And those who can afford to pay for care make a fair contribution towards their care
We have undertaken a detailed Equality Impact Assessment to ensure our policies do not do harm to any individual or group.
We have listened to comments from service users and carers – over 1100 of them and changed our plans accordingly.
I have held individual meetings people with specific concerns including Freda Potten and Tina Barnes from the Friends of Albert Road Day Centre.
I understand that even if it is the right thing to do, change can be hard particularly for older people and carers.
So we are committed to being flexible and sensitive about the way we implement new policies.
Councillors should remember 40 % of people who receive care including day care will not charged under our plans – not even £5.90.
Our charges reflect well when compared to neighbouring authorities and the private sector.
4.1 in the report sets out the delegation agreed at Cabinet to the Director of Housing and Community to develop an implementation plan.
This is not a cliff edge and there is a safety net :
We will prioritise financial assessments for people already using Day Care services.
Residents who are assessed a no longer being eligible for care will be supported for up 6 months to find alternative support in the community.
This Council takes safeguarding seriously If residents needs increase or their condition deteriorates this will be picked up straight away.
For too long this Council when it was under Labour control operated policies completely oblivious to the financial realities.
This administration operates policies within the Councils’s means.
This year the Council has had to find £19 million pounds worth of savings.
Despite this I have balanced the Community Care Budget– for the first time in many years.
And working with Liberal Democrat and Conservative colleagues helped keep vital services such as libraries and leisure service open – where Labour councils have closed theres.
By changing our policies in the way described in the report:
- This Council will save £600,000 over three years.
- And avoid growth pressures which would have cost this Council £1.5million pounds.
This administration has increased support to the voluntary sector which supports thousands of needy residents in Reading to £1.7million.
We will still spend around £40 million pounds on social care this year.
£400k to provide more advice, breaks and support for carers.
And we will continue to fund Integrated immediate care services.
There is only one compassionate, sustainable and equitable option on the table this evening.
I urge members across this Council to support it."