A Labour MP and local councillors are calling on the leader of Bromley Council to “cough up” and take immediate action to save a vital day services centre for older people from being forced to close – possibly as soon as tomorrow.
Conservative-run Bromley Council has promised to support the Bertha James Day Centre, but the trustees who run Age Concern Ravensbourne, based at the centre, say that they need immediately a sum of £73,000 – which had been promised by Bromley Council – otherwise this Friday 13 will have terrible consequences for their operations.
The trustees say that the centre, which provides social support, personal care services for elderly residents and respite for their carers, can no longer continue under the current funding arrangements.
A petition to save the centre drew 500 signatures in its first 24 hours.
The centre has been based on Masons Hill for since the 1970s, but the trustees say that they have been warning Bromley for eight years that the council’s new model for funding their vital work in the community would have catastrophic consequences.
The centre’s plight has prompted a local MP to intervene.
“This delay in payment, the unsustainable conditions of funding and the lack of information for trustees , staff and service users has led to a situation where the centre faces imminent closure and a lack of alternative options,” Ellie Reeves, the MP for Lewisham West and Penge (pictured right), wrote to the council yesterday, calling for “a full review of the situation and if an extension could be negotiated to allow all options for keeping the centre to be explored in full”.
A shift in the way the council funds social care has made the day centre’s current service model unviable. The centre has had a rent hike from a nominal, “peppercorn rent”, to being asked to pay £68,000 per year, while the council has cut by one-fifth the amount it pays for services to residents provided by the centre.
In a letter from the trustees to the council from earlier this month, seen by Inside Croydon, they said, “The imposition of an annual rental commencing at £68,000 and growing annually by the Retail Price Index, plus a reduction of 20 per cent below the economic rate that the council was prepared to pay for the clients referred to the Bertha James Day Centre, were causing our cash reserves to reduce to a level that would, in the very near future, cause the centre to become unviable and on closure of the centre, would not permit us to meet our statutory trustee liabilities.”
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The situation came to a head when the centre’s auditors, on completing the annual financial report for the year ending March 2019, advised that Age Concern Ravensbourne’s situation was rapidly moving to a position where the Bertha James Centre would not be able to continue to operate as a going concern. “In view of this the auditors recommended that as a matter of urgency we should seek advice from an official liquidator,” the trustees wrote.
On February 1 this year, the trustees wrote to the council giving it 14 days to decide on what course of action to take. On February 18, the council got around to responding, indicating that it would assist with what the trustees have described as “achieve a graceful wind-down of all the centre’s operations” through to the end of the year.
It was then that Bromley, with backing from Colin Smith, the Tory leader of the council, gave a promise that an ex gratia payment of £73,000 would be paid to the centre to allow the trustees to organise their finances in a sustainable way through to December.
But the money has never been paid.
The trustees’ letter put the council on notice that they will close all operations this Friday.
“This situation is appalling,” Councillor Angela Wilkins, the leader of Bromley’s opposition Labour group said. “It appears Bertha James Centre has been set up to fail by Bromley’s Conservative council.
“At the very end of the last meeting of the Adult Care and Health committee, when members were packing up, we were unexpectedly informed that Bertha James Centre had considerable financial difficulties and would be facing immediate closure unless the council provided £73,000,” Wilkins told Inside Croydon.
“The committee was told that the money would be provided and that the centre would be able to stay open until December 2020.
“I am horrified now to learn that the money has not been paid.
“The council’s delay in payment on top of its imposition of unsustainable conditions in the centre’s funding is driving this service to closure. Having met recently with the management of BJC, I believe the council should be working constructively to retain this important local service.
“Changes may be necessary, but closure of the centre is final and removes both options for users and respite opportunities for carers. The Council must not be allowed to set up services to fail, reducing much-needed support options for Bromley’s elderly population.
“I call on Councillor Smith to immediately ‘cough up’, just as he promised to do.”
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