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The short answer is we don't know yet but we might with any luck know something soon. The Oxford County Council will decide in January on the fate of the homes in Chippy, Woodstock and Milton under Wychwood which were not covered in the county wide plans agreed in 2002. What is being recommended The incredible situation is that we - the public - are not allowed to know. Its too commercially sensitive. So how did we get to this point

Back in January 2002 the following article appeared in the Cotswold Journal:

Future in doubt for elderly home

CONCERN is growing over the future of Chipping Norton's home for elderly people. Government legislation means that Castle View no longer meets the minimum standards, so it will have to close within five years. Residents now fear that care providers will not give the town another home to replace Castle View, but civic leaders say they will press the town's case as hard as they can. The town's county councillor, Robert Evans, said: "I remain absolutely determined to fight for Castle View. I'm quite convinced that there is an overwhelming case for a closure and the rebuilding of an old people's home in Chipping Norton."

Mayor Jo Graves said the delay should be as short as possible. "It must be terribly distressing to the residents and the staff there. It is the residents who are going to suffer." The town council has written to the county council to press its case for a new home in Chippy and to the Oxfordshire Care Partnership, the body that has taken over the county's homes for elderly people.

The county council has taken the drastic step because it says it does not have the money to upgrade or rebuild its sub-standard homes. The Partnership will have access to the cash needed to replace the out-of-date homes.

Nick Welch, the county's assistant director of social services, said: "We have 19 homes and 10 are below standard. That means they will shut by March 31, 2007, not by our choice, but by dint of government legislation." He added: "The county council is committed to seeing the provision of all 800 places we now have by 2007, but it doesn't mean we can guarantee to replace every home because the Oxfordshire Care Partnership needs to build the homes bigger so we can get the efficiencies."

"The contract requires them to produce by March a development programme which we will then consult on. They will cover Chipping Norton along with all the other homes."

Councillor  Evans said: "It is a very bitter pill in many ways, because I think we all definitely feel we would have liked these to stay in public ownership, but there is really no alternative to this contract other than losing 440 residential places across the county." He believes that Chipping Norton meets the criteria laid down by the county for having a home of its own to replace the 40-bed Castle View. These include access to community facilities, shops and public transport. "The more pressure we put on the better," he said.

A Local Stakeholder's Group was set up for each of the three homes under threat and asked to come up with a recommendation about what should happen to them. The groups include representatives from  interested parties to ensure that all factors are taken into account - including budgets and broader county considerations. (But its not clear who appointed the members to the Stakeholders Group). The Chippy Group  has been meeting this year - weighing up the options with support from an Officer Group and with oversight from a specifically convened County District Members Group. They have apparently just come up with a  recommendation. This goes forward to a meeting
in December  of a sub- group that reports to the County Council Executive on homes for older people. The executive decide in January. The discussion of Castleview's future has been complicated by issues concerning total capacity requirements for care beds in the County and the emergence of Very Sheltered Housing as a key priority. Its also clear that any new homes need to be big to generate operating efficiencies and the County wants a shift of capacity from the North to the South of the county. Castle View's situation is further confused by its location on a restricted site but next to other important public service facilities like the Ambulance Station and the Hospital - both of which are under review. Its fairly clear that the County were trying to steer the Chipping Norton Stakeholder group towards recommending that Castleview should be rebuilt as Very Sheltered Housing (see below) which would mean that the small number of additional Residential Care places required could be accommodated in the rebuilding of other larger homes. It doesn't look as if the Group are rolling over though.  They seem to be sticking out for keeping a Residential Care facility in the town and seem to have the support of the District Council in this. Good luck and every success to them.

But we can't really be sure about anything because the whole process has been shrouded in the most amazing secrecy and confusion - with nobody apparently clear about what information is public domain and what isn't. This is probably all the result of the fact that Oxfordshire have handed over the refurbishment, building and running of all  their Old People's Homes to an outfit called the Oxfordshire Care Partnership - which despite its rather pious-sounding  name - is in fact a 50/50 joint venture company between a Housing Association (BPHA) and The Orders of St. John Care Trust. The BPHA published accounts show that in the year to March 2003 their 50% stake in the joint venture company generated a net surplus  of 248,000.....Presumably the Orders of St John Care Trust made the same amount from their 50% stake- so that's a total of half a million pounds for the Oxfordshire Care Partnership as a whole. The Orders of St John Care Trust website says "The complex and extensive Oxfordshire contract will run over 25 years, and is worth some 15m per annum".  So the Oxfordshire Care Partnership seems to have made a cool half-million on a 15m contract - a net 3.3% (and that is in a start-up year with all the extra costs involved) Not  bad business!. Just for interest - this compares with the 2.3% net profit which Hilton Hotels reported on their turnover in a recent  period.

But the consequence of these new commercial-style arrangements means that discussion about changes to council contracts becomes commercially sensitive information - and any outcome of the Castleview discussion will probably mean a contract revision. So meetings and minutes are conveniently caught by this definition of one sort of information which can be withheld from the public - "the amount of any expenditure proposed to be incurred by the authority under any particular contract for the acquisition of property or the supply of goods or services". This embargo on information would not have applied had the homes stayed under public ownership and management

Even when a matter involves issues of great public interest and importance we - the public - are not allowed to know about the discussion of the options or the recommendations being made on our behalf. This is so absurd that the situation will have to change soon - particularly as partnership arrangements between commercial companies and local authorities become more common. (Dennis Skinner was setting about the Inland Revenue in a Commons Committee only this week on a precisely similar situation).

In the meantime local representatives should not agree to serve on so-called consultation or stakeholder groups which are in effect "secret". The key  point of representation is that you report back to the people you represent.

The Economic Committee of the WODC  have been discussing the whole matter, and heavily censored minutes plus reports have appeared on their website...so presumably what appears there is in the public domain. The information contained in them is all we have been allowed to know. Lets use the few facts available from there to indulge in some guesswork.

In a  report  for a committee  meeting on Nov 20th there are the following points of interest about the Care Home Appraisal process:

First - a summary of an outside consultant's report

West Oxfordshire is relatively well provided for with care home places in the immediate short term and potential home closures could be absorbed in under used capacity in the district, although this would leave no spare capacity.
However, in the medium to long term, demographic pressure will require 65 extra beds by 2007 and 100 by 2010 to give a 92.5% occupancy rate.
The report suggests very sheltered housing (VSH) would be a preferred option for service development because: it is a preferred choice of older people; typical units of 30-36 beds would be a viable size for local demand; and the district currently lacks any VSH and recently announced government funds present a window of opportunity.
A second preferred option would be the development of new care homes. However, the size and location of such homes would need careful analysis and specialist dementia services (which the area lacks) would probably need to be included in order to attract non-local demand, as would a significant proportion of private pay residents.

Second, a report on the County's latest thinking:

The County Council have thus far concluded that ....... that arrangements with the NHS, and in particular the Pooled Budget arrangements, should be used as fully as possible to ensure the most effective use of resources in supporting any developments that may be agreed and that specific attention should be given to the development of very sheltered housing options and the drawing in of development funds though Government Grants and any other routes.

Third, some comments on Castle View:

Castle View, Chipping Norton
is a 47 bed residential home which did not meet original environmental requirements of the Care Standards Act 2000 and does not meet the standards for new care homes. The combination of a high proportion of shared rooms, very small single rooms and no en-suite facilities for residents mean that the home is effectively not fit for purpose in delivering long term care to highly dependant residents. In considering options, the Local Stakeholders Group has linked to the Town appraisal and other plans. Three potential sites have been discussed for potential developments, which would combine any combination of a care home, Very Sheltered Housing (VSH) or health funded intermediate care beds.

The committee resolved :

(a) that the Cabinet be recommended to support the preferred option ( in the confidential appraisal document) for the provision of services in Chipping Norton, subject to the retention of the existing level of hospital facilities and maternity provision available in the town.

(d) that the Cabinet be recommended to indicate that the Council would wish to see the provision of 24 hour residential care in all very sheltered housing in West Oxfordshire.

Remembering that this is only the District Council deciding what to say to the County - who actually decide - these notes make it fairly clear that the (confidential) preferred option for Chippy must include at least some provision for 24 hour residential care. The concern that the hospital may become unviable as a result of the option means it must also include an element of health funded intermediate care beds (which are part of the hospital's existing service). These attract funds from the NHS so would be highly desirable from an economic point of view. What is not clear is whether the Chippy preferred option includes a Very Sheltered Housing (VSH) component as well. It seems very likely that it might - since the County has made it clear that it needs them and asked that specific attention should be given to them. This possibility is re-inforced by the reference to THREE sites having been discussed. Including VSH would need more space. Two of the sites involved must be the present Castleview site and the adjacent ambulance station site - perhaps together they would be big enough to accommodate all three elements. But the Ambulance Trust is in a mess with its own consultation process on the closure of stations and can hardly yet be in a position to offer up its Chippy real estate.

Which raises the fascinating possibility that the THIRD site being considered for a fairly major development (including possibly even a dementia unit as well) might be a part of the County-owned land opposite Parker Knoll which has already been allocated for housing in the Local Plan. That would release the Castleview site - with its fabulous open views across to the hills - for private re-development and a consequently useful net contribution to the costs of an ambitious Care Home plan.

But this is all speculation. We are not allowed to know. We must wait for the County Executive meeting in January and hope that their minutes are more forthcoming. Meanwhile it all sounds good for the Oxford Care Partnership. Whatever the outcome of the options appraisal, their contract will almost certainly get more valuable and their "surplus" bigger.  The Oxford Care Partnership have often been referred to as  a "non-profit" organisation! (or sometimes a charity).  Its really puzzling why we are kept in the dark to protect their commercial interests.


FOOTNOTE: December 10th

County Councillor Evans (who has nothing to do with the article above)
has kindly explained exactly what the time table is going to be:

The HOPS meeting is an advisory group and will feed in comments and advice
for the report and recommendations that will go to Executive in January. Its
proceedings and minutes will be intended just for key stakeholders involved
in the process at the county wide level -  councillors, officers,
Oxfordshire Care Partnership/Order of St John's, PCTs etc.

Papers for the Executive meeting of 27 January will be published on 16
January - so just in time to be public for the Town Council on 19th.

Consultation on proposals agreed by Executive on 27 January will start from
then. The consultation period is usually 2 months and will certainly involve
a public meeting in the town. The proposals will have a timetable for
rolling out any suggested developments on the three centres up to 2008.

SECOND FOOTNOTE: December 12th

Councillor Evans writes

The  OCC/WODC Member/Officer and HOPS meetings  have been
postponed in oredr to get more financial information and advice on 3 West
Oxon home proposals worked through accurately.  I am advised by the Executive member
that this now sets back the whole timetable - HOPS will now be Feb, OCC
Executive March and consultation from March/April.
Frustrating but on the other hand best to get accurate costings on which to
base projections.