There's a (reasonably balanced) report splashed in The Guardian this morning about the philosophy as well as practical changes in Barnet Council in seeking savings of £16 million a year. The approach has been dubbed EasyCouncil. Providing good, reliable basic services, keeping the costs down and being transparent about those costs, on the EasyJet model. Their Future Shape of the Council proposals plan greater involvement for the private sector and the voluntary sector and a "self help" philosophy.
The most controversial proposal is considered to be a reduction in the number of live-in wardens covering sheltered housing for the elderly. They are felt to be simply too expensive. A system of "floating wardens" is planned. Some residents are worried about the replacement of an emergency cord in their room as it would take longer for them to get help in an emergency. One would have to know the details. Are the "live-in" wardens actually there 24/7? Would the floating wardens be available 24/7? In sheltered housing block in my ward, residents complained that they have two wardens working Monday to Friday, nine to five, while they would rather have them working in shifts and covering evenings and weekends.
The Fire Brigade advise that the most effective way for savings lives in installing sprinkler systems and Barnet are fortunate in this regard in having Brian Coleman who is a champion of this life saving measure – whatever we might think of his enthusiasm for taxis.
Apart from health and safety it is pointed out that wardens help to combat loneliness for residents. But surely this is an area where greater involvement from the voluntary sector should be encouraged? There are plenty of us who are happy to keep old people company because we want to, not because we are paid. That can do far more that the state possibly could.
Another change which is proving popular with the elderly, as well as saving money, is greater help for people to remain independent.
The Guardian reports the case of 87-year-old Sarah Walker.
When discharged she had to use a walking frame, struggled with the stairs and couldn't cook meals or make her own bed. She worried the local authority would want to put her in a home, but because it now has a policy of trying to avoid expensive long-term care, it instead offered a burst of intensive help in a bid to help her regain her independence, and it worked.
"I had three carers a day for the first week," she said. "One in the morning, one at lunchtime and one in the evening. They gave me the confidence to get back to doing things for myself. At the end of six weeks I was managing quite well and I am independent now. It would be a waste of money if they were sending someone once a week for evermore, so this was the right approach for me."
How else might the self help approach be encouraged for residents in general? "The snowfall this winter was a good example," said Nick Walkley, the Council's Chief Executive. "A lot of people phoned the council to ask when we were going to come along to clear the pavement. In the past most residents would have got out their spades and cleared the pavement in front of their house … We need to think about which of those approaches is the right model."