Thursday, July 23, 2009

Door Slammed on Housing Cash

The door has been firmly slammed shut on the Sutton Housing Partnership (SHP) by the Government for much needed investment in Sutton Council's housing stock. The hammer blow comes after SHP's failure to achieve the Audit Commission's 'Decent Homes Standard' for a 'two star' status last year.

Detailed in a letter to SHP from the Homes & Communities Agency, Sutton Council will not receive a penny in capital funding needed to raise the standard of its public housing, until at least 2011/12. It is the final blow for council tenants after two decades of failure in maintaining decent homes for council tenants, by the Liberal Democrat administration, condemning tenants to more years of misery in poor quality housing.

According to figures from the National Federation of ALMOs (Arm's Length Management Organisations) Sutton's social housing is in the bottom 11% of the 69 ALMOs across the country. 50 of the 69 ALMOs set up since April 2002 have been judged as either 'excellent' or 'good' - this means Sutton has some of the worst social housing in Britain.

Conservative Opposition Housing Spokesman, Councillor Barry Russell, commented by saying: "This is a disaster for Sutton Council's tenants. Lib Dem town hall bosses have failed to maintain decent housing for council tenants over a twenty-year period. They have nowhere to hide on this issue and tenants are paying the price for their failure.

"By letting our council housing fall into such a state they have condemned Sutton Housing Partnership tenants to more years of uncertainty, living in substandard accommodation."

Just one of a number of examples of the poor state of housing was discovered by a fact-finding visit of our Housing Policy group members to June Close in Carshalton. The tenant who did not want to be named, is a working mother with two children. The photo shows her highlighting a plug socket located over a gas hob in contravention of basic safety regulations. On top of the mould in her young child's bedroom and single glazed windows, she could barely keep the flat at a habitable temperature, telling us, "It's like Russian Roulette with our heating. We had to get it fixed four times since the beginning of this year. In winter we have to sleep downstairs because the house gets so cold. There is a ice-cold draughty from the neglected windows and it's horrible when it snows. What do we pay our rent and Council Tax for? We love the area and we really don't want to move but the conditions are appalling."

The u-turn by the Government is a disaster for Sutton and its tenants. But it is one that has been compounded by a lack of attention from the council over many years. In setting up SHP, lead councillors were more interested in playing politics with the composition of the board rather than the quality of the service delivered to tenants.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Please vote for Scully's Blogspot

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Best Blogs Poll 2009 It's that time of the year again when I come with my begging bowl. I write the blog to encourage communication with residents of the ward and the borough as a whole and I thoroughly enjoy doing it. I've been lucky enough to get some wider recognition for doing so, reaching the third most popular blog written by a councillor last year in the same award. I'll be doing well to hold that with plenty of new excellent bloggers around but I would be grateful if you would take a few moments to include me when voting for your top ten political blogs. I've reproduced Iain Dale's instructions for voting below. You can click on the picture to the right to go to the instruction page as well.

It's that time of year again, when Total Politics asks you to vote for your Top 10 favourite blogs. The votes will be compiled and included in the forthcoming book, the Total Politics Guide to Blogging 2009-10, which will be published in September. This year the poll is being promoted/sponsored by LabourList and LibDemVoice as well as this blog.The rules are simple.

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include ten blogs. If you include fewer than ten your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2009. Any votes received after that date will not count.

I can't help you with supplying a list of nine others to vote for. Last year, I provided a list of blogs in various categories that you might like to read, the blogroll on the right hand side of this page has a few links to others. You decide, but if you can shove me up at the top, I'd be much obliged!

Exploring Adult Social Services Part 3

The last of my three trips around the social services in Sutton comprised of three parts. Oakleigh Care Centre has radically changed in the last few years. Care for the increasing numbers of people with dementia would have been limited to having them sit in a day centre just a few years ago. The manger of Oakleigh, Rick, has channeled his energy and enthusiasm into transforming Oakleigh into a place where those suffering from dementia can retain a comparatively high level of independence and certainly a far higher level of dignity that would have been thought possible in the past. Residents have made a groundbreaking film, having been taught to use the equipment, a petting zoo had come over the weekend with sheep and goats taking over the sensory garden and Ollie the pet dog has the run of the place. Actors say never work with children or animals. Dementia specialists go for completely the opposite. I was told of a wonderful example of a resident speaking for the first time in a year when she first petted the dog.

Then to Ludlow Lodge in Wallington. Mainly an intermediate care service, the aim here is to work with residents who have come from hospital, either after an operation or a fall, to recover and regain confidence to return to their own homes. I met a lady who was being shown how to take a cup of tea from the kitchen to her seat using a trolley whilst carrying her stick. This is something that we take for granted. Now look forty years into the future and imagine coming out of hospital having had a gall bladder removed. Helping people back into their own homes is great for the person themselves and good economic sense for the council and the Health Service, meaning that beds can be used for others and scarce money can be better targeted.

Finally the Short Term and Re-ablement Team (START), based next to Ludlow Lodge. Sandra Roche who was my tour guide for the morning has introduced some brilliant entreprenurial ideas into this area. The senior management must be commended for allowing staff the freedom to innovate in this way. The START team will come into people's homes at an early stage to assess and give the support that the resident needs. Again, the aim is to reintroduce as much independence to their lives as possible, acheiving the ideal balance of improving people's lives whilst running an efficient department. IT systems are used well to ensure that team members are spending most of their time with residents rather than in the office or on the road. A body of evidence is building up to show quite how much money this is saving the authority.

I accompanied Senior Carer Lynne Locke to visit a family in Beddington. The husband had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. He was born in Burma, so we had a lot in common to talk about, including common family friends. He was at his most passionate though, when speaking about how the carers made him feel. Living through the terror of an uncertain future as well as the physical symptoms that had left him bed-bound, the carers restored a level of dignity. His direct quote, spoken with a tear in his eye, was that they made him feel like a human being again.

Now I hadn't realised that Sandra and Lynne were stars of the small screen otherwise I would have asked for an autograph, but a short film appears on the Local Government Channel website, where they talk about their excellent service in more detail. Well worth a few minutes of your time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Exploring Adult Social Services Part 2

Earlier this week, I continued my whistlestop tour of the borough's adult services, finding out more about how voluntary groups provide such valuable support for residents. Sutton Centre for Independent Living and Learning (SCILL) and Sutton Carers were perfect examples of the fact that Local Authorities are often not the right people to provide services themselves, instead supporting others who can be more responsive.

I've met both Sam Edwards who runs SCILL and Rachael Macleod (second from right in photo) from Sutton Carers on several occasions around a table. It is only spending a bit of time away from meeting rooms, seeing their work firsthand that you can get the fullest sense of the role that their organisations play.

First up, lunch at Sherwood Cafe. Based in SCILL, it is open to the public as well as people using the centre. Star turn was Charlie who served us and who had proved to be an excellent ambassador for the service at the Take Part, Take Pride stall in Sutton High Street earlier. We discussed the changes that were happening in Adult Social Care with the Government's "Transforming Social Care" agenda. The main thrust of this is to 'personalise' services so that the elderly or those with a disability do not simply get taken from home, left in a large room in a day centre and collected at the end of the day. Instead residents have access to Direct Payments, cash that they can spend on the help and support that they want. This helps pay for personal assistants, trips and other support when it is needed rather than being imposed. Sam's team handles this work, ensuring that it serves its purpose in being flexible, whilst maintaining the integrity of the system. I was especially impressed with the small but very able and creative team who worked with residents to go beyond just supplying basic support. They acted as life coaches, encouraging visitors to SCILL to look beyond the day to day and so investigate other areas that SCILL can help with to improve the quality of their lives and to find and build a level of independence.

Then onto Sutton Carers. I don't know many Canadians, but Rachael Macleod's default excuse for being a no-nonsense kinda gal, championing her cause is that she is from Canada. If that's the case, Stephen Harper must have a queue a mile long on Parliament Hill, with people fighting for what they believe. Persuasive, comprehensive and most of all passionate about her subject, Rachael is someone you want on your side and a real asset to Sutton Carers. Having spent sometime 'speed-dating' the staff, with 10 minutes or so looking at each area, I met someone who had dropped into the centre. Disabled herself, her husband was an alcoholic. Who else can you turn to in such an instance? Where else can you go? Both professional support and a friendly ear from volunteers who had been carers are available.

There is still more to be done to ensure that everyone knows about what is on offer and what they can acheive. We can always do more to support charities like Sutton Carers However, they are both excellent services and both great examples of what can be done when council officers have the foresight to set people free from the constraints of usual outdated practice.

Hat Tip: Radio Jackie for photo.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Exploring Adult Social Services Part 1

On Friday, I went on the first of three tours of Sutton's Adult Social Services. All councillors know about waste collection, the state of our roads and policing because these are visible services that affect everyone on a day to day basis. Support for the disabled, the elderly and for carers is a vital component of the council and the biggest area of spending with 38% of our council tax going towards funding this. However, unless you use the services, have relatives or friends that use the service or volunteer yourself, it is too easy to allow this area to pass you by. So when the opportunity came to find out more, I jumped at it.

First port of call was the same first contact that residents would have, the part of the call centre that specialises in care matters. I recall almighty problems when the new 'Paris' database was implemented which records clients' details but it seems to be working really well now with full details being shared across the service. This saves an inordinate amount of time only having to ask questions once. There is nothing so demoralising as being passed from pillar to post and having to start your story yet again to another voice on the line. Some 80% of queries are resolved at this stage. The Council works well with voluntary organisations who provide a whole host of services. Often it is just a matter of explaining what is available and where they can find the right people.

Literally next to this area of first contact sits the Access Team, made up of social workers and care managers. They have the expertise to resolve the more complicated issues and direct the teams out in the field. I was impressed to see the enthusiasm of the team. I could see two main reasons for this. Firstly they felt able to make decisions and resolve issues quickly. Secondly, they were being trained up towards being fully fledged social workers giving them a goal and a deserved sense of acheivment as they progressed in gaining new skills. There were many years of collective council service in the team. It's good to see the pride in showing me the ropes.

Next stage was a trip to the Cheam Priory Centre behind Cheam Baths (!Issue alert!). Two teams of social workers serve the Borough. Cheam is home to the West Team. I spent an hour getting to grips with the way that the teams work with the added complication of safeguarding. Finally I accompanied Helen, a Care Manager on a visit to a couple's home. Having suffered a stroke eight years ago, the husband was partially paralysed and found speaking difficult. His wife was his full-time carer. They had just returned from a few days' holiday and it was clear that this was very welcome respite from the hard work involved in simply living their lives.

Helen had seen the family before and reviewed their situation to see what more support could be offered. She had already pointed them towards the Sutton Carers Centre, an essential organisation for any local carer and discussed financial support as well as alterations to the home to make it easier to continue living independently. Small things to help make it easier getting in and out of the bath make a massive difference to the quality of life. These were proud people who were coping under difficult circumstances. Within my short visit, I could see how tiring it was for them but also how they had kept a great sense of humour.

I'm looking forward to the next visits, today and Thursday. Following that, we will be able to tackle the issues far more knowledgeably when developing policy on how to change the future of Sutton.