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Furlong Close Update - 'A blatant attempt to re-invent history'

April 29, 2021 4:39 PM
By WC

Wiltshire's outgoing Conservative administration is afraid its treatment of residents of Furlong Close in Rowde is not going down well with the electorate, so is frantically putting out press releases via County Hall. Campaigners though have pointed out that the latest of these contains the usual self-justifying contortions. Emails seen by the campaigners reveal the administration's complicity in attempting to close the facility without consideration for or consultation with the residents and their families.

Here's the truth of the matter from the 'Save Furlong Close' campaign, followed by the WC release:

First, the update says that the Council has been taking "decisive action" to save Furlong Close. What it points to, however, is the ongoing exploration by the Council of the possibility of engaging an alternative care provider for two years. And what is that care provider being engaged to do? To oversee the closure of Furlong Close over the next two years. This hardly qualifies as "decisive action" to save the vulnerable residents of Furlong Close from the trauma of being evicted from their long-term homes.

Secondly, the Council seeks to deny Hft's statements that the closure was driven by "gross degree of historic underfunding of the service by Wiltshire Council", by asserting that the fees the Council is "currently" paying are comparable to those being paid by the other local authorities with residents at Furlong Close, after a 34% increase in fees in November 2019. This proposition, however:

  • Only serves to evidence the truth of Hft's assertion, by pointing up the fact that, prior to November 2019, Wiltshire Council was paying at least 34% lower fees than the other local authorities; and
  • Omits the critical information that the 34% increase in fees was not a long term commitment but was only agreed to last until 31 March 2021, by which time Furlong Close was planned to be closed.

Finally, the Council continues to assert that it was merely a passive recipient of the decision by Hft to close Furlong Close. This is, however, a blatant attempt to re-invent history; the contemporaneous documents more than make good Hft's assertion that the closure decision was one arrived at "jointly" and "in partnership with Wiltshire Council". For instance:

  • On 4 December 2019, the Council confirmed with Hft "a mutual commitment to a phased move on for all Wiltshire funded clients to alternative accommodation by 31st March 2021 at the latest, including the closure of the day services" and agreed an uplift in fees "through to 31st March 2021".
  • On 8 July 2020, the Finance Director of Hft confirmed with the Council that, in November 2019, it had told Hft that the Council "no longer wished to commission residential services" at Furlong Close and stated that this had resulted in a "mutual commitment to phased move on for the people we support to alternative accommodation".

After this secret November 2019 agreement, for several months leading up to the October 2020 announcement by Hft of the "joint decision" with Wiltshire Council to close Furlong Close, the documents make it clear that Council officers were working hand-in-glove with Hft on plans to implement that closure decision. Appallingly, all of this occurred without any consultation whatsoever with the residents or their families, who were simply told in October 2020 (in the middle of a lockdown) that the closure was a "done deal". So much for the Council's solemn pledge in 2015 to adults with learning disabilities that "People's wishes, and those of their families, will be listened to and will be at the heart of planning and delivering their care and support".

..................................................

Wiltshire Council has been liaising with families of residents living at Furlong Close and has invited them to be part of the process to find a new provider for the site.

Hft owns the site at Furlong Close which is home to 21 Wiltshire Council-funded residents and 14 residents from 13 other local authorities.

Hft stated in February it was terminating its contract at the site but would offer the site to be available for up to two years. The council has been in constant discussions with Hft and is now leading the tendering process for a new provider.

The council is not delivering the provision of care at Furlong Close as this will either be provided by Hft or an alternative care provider, however it is working on the tendering process and is inviting family members to be involved as well.

Lucy Townsend, Corporate Director for People at Wiltshire Council, said: "We know families and residents at Furlong Close are anxious for a decision to be made and they remain at the heart of this decision. We have been liaising with families of Furlong Close residents and have invited them to be involved in an interview that will form part of the tender evaluation, as it will be important we take on board the views of the families before any decision is made. We have also been holding regular meetings with the family members of residents and there will be another one this week to provide them with the latest news. For us this is about finding the best future options for our residents who live at Furlong Close."

The deadline for submissions for tenders as a new provider was 15 April and shortlisted tenderers will be notified shortly. The final stage of the tender process will be an interview with families next month for shortlisted providers and once the interviews with families have been concluded, the formal notification of a contract award decision will be issued to tenderers.

The tender process is the latest development after Hft informed Wiltshire Council in July 2020 they wished to close the site. Since being made aware Wiltshire Council has made efforts to work in partnership with Hft to find the best solution possible for all Furlong Close residents.

The fees Wiltshire Council pays are currently at the top end of what is expected to be paid for this type of care and in November 2019 Wiltshire Council agreed a 34% increase in fees for Wiltshire Council residents at Furlong Close. In October 2020, Hft sent a letter to residents announcing its plan to close the site in June 2021. On 15 February, Hft sent a letter to Wiltshire Council and the other local authorities and served 90 days' notice of termination of services at the site. The decision was shared with residents, families and carers and Hft has said the site is currently available to a provider for a period of up to two years.