Same Old Tories, Same Old Stories…

Warm words now can’t make up for the way they battered the elderly when in office

Rochford Liberal Democrats have spent nearly £2 million in the last few years upgrading nine of our old people’s homes – turning bed-sits into self-contained flats, with their own bathroom facilities. Our hope was that the elderly of our district would enjoy a more independent and dignified retirement. There are still 4 homes remaining to be upgraded, but successive Tory governments squeezed us so hard that we haven’t been able to find the £1.8 million we need to finish the job.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I read in our local press recently: “Long term care for the elderly is a priority”. Written by a Rayleigh Conservative. One of many Conservatives who have apparently forgotten how the Tories, in eighteen years of government, battered our elderly till they didn’t know whether they were coming or going.

Remind me, which government cut the link between pensions and earnings, so that our elderly have become the poorest in Europe? Which government cut funding for the health service, and let out elderly lie on trolleys in hospital corridors? Who reduced police numbers, so that pensioners felt increasingly unsafe on our streets? Quite right, it was the Tories.

In February, Liberal Democrat county councillors asked the Tories to put £1.5 million into their budget to reduce elderly people’s waiting times for residential care. The Tories said no.

When they can do something for the elderly, they don’t. When they are out of office, the Conservatives pour out warm words in the hope that old people’s failing memories will make them forget the shameful way they have been treated.

There will be several issues exercising Rayleigh voters in the Rochford District Council elections in May.

Unfortunately, Rayleigh Conservatives are so short of ideas that they have left it to their colleagues at County Hall to make all the running. Running? Well, staggering from fiasco to disaster then.

First, the incinerator menace. In October, Tory councillors amended the Essex Waste Plan to include the promotion of ‘energy recovery’ – burning rubbish, to you and me. And one of the sites for the incinerators that would be needed for this bright idea? Why, a piece of land to the west of Rayleigh, where even a 300 foot chimney wouldn’t be high enough to disperse the noxious fumes that would emanate. And if the threat of toxic gases weren’t enough, there would be the deadly residues from the furnaces – would you want this ash buried on your doorstep? And to cap it all, there would be the thousands of extra heavy lorry movements required to transport the waste to Rayleigh and to take the ash away.

Fortunately the people of Rayleigh have more sense than the Tories credit them with. They signed up in their thousands to oppose the incinerator, and in January the County Council was compelled to grant a six-month reprieve, which local Liberal Democrats are making the most of to look for genuinely sustainable long-term plans to deal with our waste. What we really need is a waste reduction/reuse/recycling scheme that tackles the problem at its source, rather than at its conclusion. We need to expand our current recycling activities – composting green waste, recycling newspapers, glass, and aluminium cans – and we need to make it easier for people to take part. We are working on just such a scheme in Rochford District, with regular kerbside collections of a variety of waste materials. I do hope the good environmental sense of the people of Rayleigh wins through in the end.

For their next fiasco, the Tories picked on old people – again. Just before Christmas, they hit on a new way to save money – frozen meals instead of hot Meals on Wheels. Never mind the fact that our current excellent service is provided by a dedicated volunteer army of good Samaritans. Never mind the fact that the daily contact with their deliverers is probably as important as the hot meal they bring. Let’s see if we can save a few quid by giving them a stack of frozen meal portions on Monday – and hope they can work the microwave every other day of the week. When this plan became public, a spokesman said he wished they had been able to conduct this consultation in secret – so much for open and honest government! Fortunately, the proposal was debated in public, and again, local people made their feelings known, and this shameful proposal was dropped.

Rayleigh residents were in the forefront of yet another battle with the Tories last year – the Battle of Sweyne Court. A petition of Rayleigh residents opposed to the sale of Sweyne Court and other Old People’s Homes, collected by Rayleigh Town Councillor Peggy Pearse, was presented to the county council in November by Rayleigh Liberal Democrat County Councillor Richard Boyd.

He said: “Many local residents are deeply concerned about the effects of the Conservatives’ wholesale privatisation of Older People’s Homes, as this petition shows. The proposals could deny people choice, make it more difficult for the county council to monitor standards and lead to local private monopolies.

“I want to thank Peggy Pearse and all those who signed the petition for making their voice heard. As Peggy Pearse says, Sweyne Court is a great asset to the community. The Conservatives should now listen to local people’s views.”

They didn’t listen, of course – but thankfully they were defeated anyway, by just one vote.

Coming from a party which routinely accuses the Liberal Democrats of arrogance, these bungled attempts to ride roughshod over the people of Rayleigh show a breathtaking hypocrisy.

Paddy Ashdown has challenged the Tories to apologise for their local government record. “The Tories have invented an exciting new electoral tactic,” he said. “In Scotland their central campaign message is ‘sorry’. How about an apology for what they’ve done to local government too?

“After eighteen years of centralisation, and virtual victimisation of local authorities, the Tories claim that their ‘kitchen-table’ politics involves giving more power to the grassroots and empowering communities.”

I don’t suppose there’s any chance of our local Tory councillors apologising for the way they have treated the elderly in their budget. What’s that I hear? Probably a deafening silence.