One of the many protests against cuts to Southampton's services over the years. Photo: Paul Mattsson
One of the many protests against cuts to Southampton's services over the years. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Sue Atkins, Southampton East Socialist Party

Southampton Labour council planned to close the last two remaining care homes for the elderly that it ran – Glen Lee and Holcroft House – four years ago. It claimed they were “uneconomic” to run.

A campaign led by the local authority trade unions pushed the council back to saving Holcroft House, and committing to “developing the vision of [it] as a centre of excellence for dementia care in Southampton, providing a greater range of support to communities, alongside permanent and short-term respite care”.

These have proved to be empty promises. The ‘vision’ for Holcroft House is only 18 residents in a 34-bed home, and no new placements have been allowed for the past 18 months.

The council is now moving to finish the job and close this home too!

The council uses a fire-safety report to argue for closure. And it claims that closure is in the best interests of the residents as building work would be too disruptive and stressful for them.

But the report also says that fire safety at the home is currently “adequate”, and lists improvements that could be made over time.

80% opposed closure in an online consultation. But apparently the Labour council knows best.

It is well known that moving people with dementia to a new care home, perhaps out of the city, with staff who they do not know, will be detrimental to their wellbeing, and can lead to premature death.

The council claims that 52 staff at Holcroft, organised in Unite the Union, are to be redeployed within the council. But where?

There is no residential or social care provided by the council. It has all been privatised.

The council has put out a call for voluntary redundancies. But the staff, supported by their union, are vigorously opposing the closure, with demonstrations at council meetings, and a petition that gathered 1,600 signatures in just nine days.

The staff accuse the council of lying over the physical state of the home. They say that the Care Quality Commission (CQC) would have closed them down if there were problems. A recent CQC report said that Holcroft is ‘good’ in all areas.

But all this is to be thrown away, as the council becomes entirely reliant on private providers, with no control over costs and service provision.

The decision can be ‘called in’ at the next ‘scrutiny committee’ meeting, enabling the council’s decision to be challenged. This would be done by Tories on this committee. As it’s Labour making the cuts, the Tories are hypocritically posing as champions of Holcroft House.

It is not too late for the staff unions to develop a plan to push the council back, emulating the successful campaigns that saved Oaklands swimming pool, Kentish Road respite service and St. Mary’s Leisure Centre.

Southampton, like many other councils, is at risk of a Section 114 notice – where the council says it does not have the resources to finance its ongoing commitments.

So a decade of Southampton Labour carrying out Tory austerity, and decimating jobs and services, has brought the council to the edge of bankruptcy. Rather than avoiding Section 114, they have been inexorably sliding towards it. Further cuts of £30 million are planned this financial year, on top of the 1,000 jobs and £1 billion lost funding since 2012.

A Labour councillor recently remarked how different things would be if the city still had those resources.

What he didn’t say was that this could only be achieved by the council using its reserves and borrowing powers to protect all jobs and services – while leading a campaign throughout our trade unions and communities to demand the return of the stolen millions, and demand that an incoming Labour government fully fund much-needed local services.