Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors invoked a special procedure to ‘call-in’ the decisions, announced last week, to allow more scrutiny of why the decisions were taken.
The challenge is due to be heard on Thursday (26 June) in County Hall by cross-party members of the County Council’s Peoples’ Scrutiny committee.
However, plans by Lib Dem and Independent councillors on the committee to invite families and carers of those affected by the closures, along with Trades Unions and key council officers have been scuppered by the ruling Conservative administration.
Opposition Lib Dem leader, Cllr Alan Connett, explains:” If we are going to be able to ask questions and truly understand the reasons for these closure orders which affect elderly and vulnerable people, we need to be able to ask questions of a variety of people.”
“I emailed the chair of the scrutiny committee last week to ask for agreement to invite a range of witnesses, setting out the reasons why, but the very next day was told the request was declined. The Conservatives only want questions asked of the one councillor who made the decisions to close homes and day centres.”
“Of course, the scrutiny chair is a fellow Conservative councillor. It’s usually the case that scrutiny is chaired by the opposition parties, but last May the Conservatives put in some of their own people.”
“We were assured they would act independently, but now we see that when the chips are down, they back the Conservative administration, to which they owe their council job to and want to choke off any challenge.”
Fellow scrutiny Lib Dem, Cllr Alistair Dewhirst (Teignbridge South) said: “Very sadly this now means scrutiny councillors will not be able to hear evidence and testimony from residents, families and others with detailed or specialist knowledge.”
“Councillors have been receiving emails from concerned family members saying that the alternative care arrangements suggested by the county council just don’t seem to be available. Distress and anxiety is being caused, because of the confusion and anger about these cuts”, added Cllr Dewhirst.
North Devon’s Independent councillor, Frank Biederman (Fremington Rural), also backed the call-in because of concerns about the impact locally of the care home and day centre closures.
He said: “This isn’t and shouldn’t be about party politics. I supported the call-in to give people a further chance to demonstrate why they are concerned and so councillors, who have been kept in the dark about the real detail, could ask questions of officers and staff, including the trades unions which represent them.”
“We have to ask, why are the Conservatives stifling the democratic process. What is it they are scared of?”