Yesterday morning, I attended a meeting of the Brighton & Hove Older People’s Council (OPC). It is now under threat of closure due to the Council’s budget crisis, with officers proposing it be replaced by a non-elected “consultative” committee.
The OPC is an important voluntary, elected body set up by the council eleven years ago to help ensure that the views of older people are heard within the City and by the Council. It has had some considerable success and helped to set up the Age Friendly City supporting Council attempts to ensure a healthy older population.
The Council finance officer explained to the OPC that the huge cuts in Government grant (30%) combined with increased demand for Council services has left the Council with a budget deficit for next year of between £20 and £26 million, depending on the level of Council Tax that is set. In fact it will get worse every year after that until almost all the Government grant has been cut by 2020.
These cuts would have horrendous effects on Adult Social Care. They are also forcing the Council to consider other unpalatable cuts to services. The OPC is trying to maintain its position for being an elected and responsible voice for older people on matters like social care. The OPC disputes how much its activities cost and argues that it is far less than the Council claims.
I feel that in times of major service cuts, it is MORE not less important that we hear the voices of those in the community who are affected. It is MORE not less important that they have the opportunity to express their views and that we do not close down dissent.
Along with Caroline Lucas MP, I oppose the proposed closure on the grounds of democracy and community participation, and I will be campaigning alongside the OPC and the local branch of the National Pensioners Convention to save this important resource for older people.