Sunday, 26 September 2010

"Is this actually legal?"

I went to an Isle of Wight Council meeting recently and came home feeling angry for vulnerable people again threatened by cuts.

Controversy reigns over the proposed closure of Westminster House, a respite care home for adults with learning difficulties. The story is cogently outlined on Ventnor Blog.

The proposal, supposedly put forward by a representative group of carers (the Whole Life Working Group - expert branding), but actually pushed through by the Isle of Wight Council, is that respite services are moved to a basement of another care facility.

Cowed by the scale of protest, the Council have postponed the final verdict for 90 days while they engage in 'consultation' with service users.

Here is some of my shorthand from the heated meeting:

Cllr Mazillius said: "We wish to have complete confidence that all people who use the service have had the opportunity to [voice] any further comments or concerns."

"Until now you haven't listened to a word we've said."

"We have, through our officers, through our members, through open sessions and private sessions. We will leave no stone unturned[…] We've absolutely nothing to hide."

In the corridor afterwards, I passed a group of blasted-looking stakeholders embracing one another on sofas, faces drawn.

One stakeholder said: "My understanding is that legally the council needs to consult all users and carers before decisions being made. Although we have been invited to those meetings, they have amounted to the council telling us their plans. Is this actually legal?"

I'm not sure, but the dictionary might help:

consultation: the act of referring or consulting; "reference to an encyclopedia produced the answer"

A consultation produces an answer, the intrinsic implication being that it does not foist an answer on anybody. This exchange made me cross:

Mazillius: "The purpose of the ninety day consultation is to ensure that the concerns of the people that use the services are addressed before a final decision is made."

Ms. Hawkins: "So are you saying then, Councillor Mazillius, that there will be proper consultation before any decision is taken to close Westminster House and all the service users and all their concerns will be fully addressed? With the possibility of not relocating Westminster House?"

"Mrs Hawkins, if this authority wanted to brush anything under the carpet we wouldn't have introduced the ninety day consultation. […] I assure you that professional officers will make sure that every avenue is looked at."

[comment from gallery: 'he still hasn't answered the question']

Ms. Hawkins insisted that Cllr Maz. answer the question…

"We clearly have a preferred option […] we will fully consult on that option. But this vote will be decided by the forty members of this chamber, not by me and not by you, madam."

Yet, obviously, he is one of the forty members of the chamber, and she is not.

A lady called Hazel Wyld has convincingly condemned the Council for their pretence at consultation so far. I have some hope of her campaign having an impact on what happens next…

I will give her the final word on this subject (I would extend it to anybody downplaying the vulnerability of the vulnerable at this time). She is addressing Isle of Wight Councillors.

"Hear it from the horse’s mouth
We are the most directly involved, we care on a daily basis, we strive to do the best we can for our never going to grow up children. You who do not live with this can, with all due respects, have no idea of how our lives are governed by having to care for a grown up child, who changes our lifestyle in a way you can not even begin to imagine.
Along with that comes the sadness that they will never live the lives your children have, they won’t go to University or away with their pals on a holiday, or back pack round the world, marry and raise grandchildren for us to enjoy.
We are very aware that very little is given to them and when we see that as threatened, of course we get angry."

Banking - alchemy in real terms?

My sense of indignation has expanded through reading Whoops! by John Lanchester, an amusing unpacking of the credit boom and bust.

My biggest mind-expansion so far came in the chapter called 'rocket science' which outlines the full implications of 'credit default swaps' (CDSs) - a groundbreaking mathematical strategy that transferred to insurers the risk that a person, or company, would not be able to pay back their loan.
"These new financial instruments were very, very clever, but they had an unfortunate side-effect: they broke banking. […] The whole idea that a banker looks a borrower in the eye and takes a view on whether he can trust him came to seem laughably nineteenth century."
There was little way of refereeing this new game, and it was HUGE:
"By June 2008, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association or ISDA […] was estimating the total size of the market as $54 trillion, $54,000,000,000,000, close to the total GDP of the planet".
"This tool, the CDS, which had been invented as a way of making lending safer, turned out to magnify and spread risks throughout the global financial system. It's as if people used the invention of seatbelts as an opportunity to take up drunk driving."

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