Persistent questioning by local campaigner Caroline Nichols has revealed the truth behind Spelthorne's recent 'Bulletin Special' on Older People's services. She is challenging Conservative-controlled Spelthorne to improve upon its latest plans.
The Bulletin Special says, 'The Council cannot sustain the cost of running five day centres for a relatively small number of people while, at the same time, responding to the need for extra care housing and a larger Meals on Wheels and SPAN (Spelthorne personal alarm network) service.'
The facts show otherwise. In a written reply to Caroline Nichols, Spelthorne Council admits that SPAN needs 'no further funding'. In fact, users are charged for the service so any expansion of SPAN makes money for the Council. The extension of the meals-on-wheels service to seven days a week would cost the council only a few thousand pounds a year - less than a tenth of the money 'saved' from closing the Benwell and Stanwell Day Centres.
Caroline Nichols commented, 'Spelthorne is simply catching up on the service levels provided by other councils. The changes are so modest that they could be provided without taking money from the day centres.'
She added, 'The inclusion of extra-care housing as a cost reason for closing the day centres is also a red herring. Spelthorne has to find four more sites in addition to Sunbury's new Beechwood Court; but construction is funded from housing association and new government money so cost is not an issue.
Caroline Nichols has seen Council plans which identify Ashford and Stanwell as the priority areas for extra-care housing; no further scheme was meant for Sunbury.
She said, 'Extra-care housing for the Benwell site was a last-ditch attempt by the Tories to head off widespread and justified public criticism of their plan to sell the site. Sadly, their revised scheme is half-baked. A 36-flat development is more than twice the desirable density for extra-care homes, and the proposed community room is too small to satisfy Sunbury's continuing need for a day centre on the site.'
The Council hopes that selling the two day centre sites will raise £2m - money for general funds, not for Older Peoples Services.
Caroline Nichols has viewed Churchill Hall, Sunbury with Benwell day centre regulars. The hall will be the temporary home for the day centre in 2007.
Caroline says 'The hall is tiny and can only take a small number of users. My fear is that the Benwell community will fall apart.'