Council Leader, James Robb, does not run in the face of the sort of public meeting only Dunoon can deliver - as others have previously been seen to do. Councillor Robb faced the experience last Friday – 15th March – and a tough session it was.
Nevertheless, the Council Leader has an agenda briefing for his colleagues on the Struan Lodge issue at today’s council meeting where he resolutely lays out the necessary logic, based on the information he has been given by council officers.
For Argyll has, through external industry expertise, independently checked out and published on the staffing figures quoted by the council and found little discrepancy in them.
The figures however, remain a matter of keen dispute, with the cost of overheads factored in to the overall cited costs of running Struan Lodge now the focus for challenge.
From what we saw in the staffing figures, their composition looked like ‘a desk job’, adding up the theoretical rather than the actual costs. There was no evidence given from actual council accounts.
While the ‘desk job’ approach to staffing costs appeared, in testing, not to be far off the mark, overheads can be a different matter, with a lot more latitude for subjective estimates in a similar ‘desk job’ summation. Such estimates are as like to be wrong as right, from either party.
Dunoon Councilor Dick Walsh is understood to have a major amendment to put to the council today and has been laying out his own estimate of the potential costs of Struan Lodge, showing substantially lower figures than those presented by council officers.
It should be noted that Councillor Walsh’s costs are not alternative actual costs but costs he argues are achievable, with cost efficiencies to be made.
Councillor Walsh is claiming that the weekly cost per resident at Struan Lodge need not be the £1,621 quoted by the council but could be reduced to £1,032 per week, with service and staffing efficiencies and with expansion to 19 residents.
That is one bold headline savings claim – and a cost achievement Councillor Walsh’s own administration never managed. But this is politics and this is a less than confidently numerate society, within and outwith the council chamber.
Staffing will always be the highest cost element and, while staffing efficiencies could clearly be made, the council figures on that element have not been found to be much astray.
The staffing at Struan Lodge predates the current administration and, where it is over generous in some cases, that was approved by the previous administration led by Councillor Walsh.
In his framing note to the council today, the Council Leader says:
‘Contact with the staff group and local community representatives has confirmed a possible interest in investigating the development of a social enterprise. In line with the Council decision, the service has confirmed the Council is open to a viable business proposal that delivers equivalent efficiencies to the closure proposal.
‘Meetings are being arranged with the community leaders to discuss the viability criteria. To assist the Struan Lodge Group in developing its potential buy-out I have agreed with the Executive Director of Community Services that a suitable officer can attend their meetings in an advisory capacity if requested and that this offer may be extended to any community buy-out.
‘At the Public Meeting on Friday 15th March 2013 in Dunoon, I had the opportunity to outline the rationale for the Council decision and to hear from local interested stakeholders. [Ed: now that's a neat way of describing a stooshie] I highlighted that over £400,000 could be realised as an efficiency saving, thereby avoiding actual cuts of a similar amount to other adult care services.
‘The proposals contribute to sustainable care services that provide a fairness and equity of support for all of our older people within a difficult financial situation. The future risks from not re-assigning this funding to support wider adult care is an increased time spent in hospital prior to discharge and deterioration in the current high levels of performance relating to personal care.
‘Attendance at that meeting confirmed my view that many people in Dunoon hold the care home in great affection and hold the staff in high regard.
‘While it is not possible at this stage to put a time frame on the closure process the community can be assured that all groups who notify an interest in a potential buy-out will be kept informed of progress to ensure timely submission of any alternative proposals.’
At the Dunoon public meeting last Friday, Councillor Michael Breslin, elected as an SNP representative for Dunoon but recently resigned after earlier threats to do so were accepted but not carried out, was still whingeing out loud about having been ‘double-crossed’ by the SNP-led administration at the council’s February budget meeting.
At that meeting Councillor Breslin simply abstained from the vote on the proposed closure of Struan Lodge, along with his then party colleague, Cowal Councillor Gordon Blair and Argyll First administration member, Councillor Donald Kelly from South Kintyre.
At the public meeting, Councillor Robb spoke not from the platform but from the floor of the Queen’s Hall, within reach of the audience – a brave decision.
The last subject to get the ‘Dunoon treatment’, local MSP, Michael Russell, spoke from the safety of the dais – and was famously invited outside ['Just you and me, Michael.'] by Councillor James McQueen. Mr Russell wisely did not leave the platform but he was notable for making a 180 degree change in his position on the Dunoon passenger ferry situation after the experience.