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Deeping Bypass

10.28 pm

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding): I beg to present a petition signed by 6,000 inhabitants of the villages of Market Deeping and Deeping St. James in my constituency, which begs for the rapid construction of the Deeping bypass, which I have had occasion to mention in the House before. We have been waiting for the bypass since 1939, when the idea was mooted. It was in the 1989 Government road programme, but was removed from that programme in 1993 because of public expenditure cuts. We very much hope that it will be constructed in the new future, because it is vital not merely for the economy and the amenity of my constituents but also for their safety. Over the past two months there have been three serious accidents, with one fatality, in an area that would be bypassed if the bypass were constructed.

I hope that the voices of those 6,000 of my constituents, who represent more than three quarters of the adult population of the two villages concerned, will be heard in the right quarter in the way that they deserve.

To lie upon the Table.

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Social Services (Lancashire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Bates.]

10.29 pm

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North): I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the provision of social services in Lancashire. There has been much debate recently about the implementation of the community care reforms, and about the way in which local authorities have met their responsibilities for the management of social services.

There has been widespread support on both sides of the House for the concept of care in the community, and there is no doubt that it was the right policy, and that the Government were right to implement it. Like most hon. Members, I fully support the concept of offering choice to service users, to enable them to live in their own homes wherever possible and to allow them a greater say in how they live their lives.

It is now just over two years since implementation of the reforms began, and clearly it has been a much greater success in some parts of the country than in others. Tonight I shall concentrate on the local situation in Lancashire, and examine the extent to which the county council has met the challenge of care in the community and fulfilled its new responsibilities. I have to say that it is a far from happy story, and that Lancashire's experience has been a catalogue of incompetence, mismanagement and, in consequence, utterly avoidable misery.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is probably owing to the total incompetence of the Lancashire county council Labour group that not only has no Lancashire Labour Member bothered to be here for the debate but that there is only one Labour Member in the Chamber at all--the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)--and even he is here by mistake?

Mr. Elletson: As usual, my hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I am sure that it was not lost on my other hon. Friends, or on the representatives of the press in the Gallery.

First, let me dispel the myth cynically propagated by the Labour leadership at county hall--that Lancashire's woes are the result of Government underfunding. As my hon. Friends, including the Minister, all know, Lancashire's Labour councillors are experts in black propaganda and in the techniques of twisting and manipulating statistics to distort the truth. They are also compulsive spenders, with a disgraceful record of wasting public money on bureaucracy.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster): Lancashire Labour councillors may be compulsive spenders on things other than education, but on education they are compulsive underspenders.

Mr. Elletson: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend. Perhaps we could discuss education in another Adjournment debate on another day, because that is an equally important and urgent topic.

There is nothing that Lancashire county councillors would like more than to blame their misfortunes on the

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Government--and, of course, in a local election year that is exactly what they have been trying to do. However, the truth is very different.

The total amount available to Lancashire county council to spend on social services has consistently increased since 1990-91, when total funding of social services was £92 million. In 1993-94, £147 million was available to the county council to spend on personal social services; in 1994-95, £169 million was available, and in 1995-96 there is £185 million available. The sum that Lancashire county council received last year to spend on social services represented an increase of £22.6 million on the previous year.

The truth is that there has been a continuous year-on-year increase in the resources available, yet Lancashire's mismanagement of the funding available has left it in an appalling predicament. In 1993-94 the county council recorded an underspend on the social services budget of £6.3 million and, despite the recommendation of the Conservative group on the council that the amount be carried forward, Labour refused to do that, and decided instead to build up the balances.

Last year, the council got itself into a position where it was faced with a possible overspend of £14 million, so it decided to threaten elderly and disabled people with the withdrawal of their home help services.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: It was to happen overnight.

Mr. Elletson: I agree with my hon. Friend. I am sure that all my hon. Friends remember that letters were sent from county hall which terrified some of Lancashire's most vulnerable citizens. This year, the draconian cuts will be implemented because the county council cannot manage the available resources. It cannot balance the books, and it is spending above the level of its personal social services standard spending assessment. Once again, the Labour-controlled council blames a reduction in Government funding.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does my hon. Friend agree that the council's inept handling of its budget has meant that people who receive only one hour a week of home help have received letters from the county council to say that that one hour's help is to be removed? Does he agree that the county council has stated to the most vulnerable people in society that their money and help are to taken away from them, and does he further agree that those people will suffer because of that?

Mr. Elletson: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I know that his constituency postbag is as full as mine. My postbag is filled with letters from constituents who have to face reductions in social services such as respite care and home help. Many people, such as people with learning difficulties, now face an increase in their charges for non-residential services.

Many cases have been drawn to my attention by people who are at a complete loss as to what to do. It is difficult to single out one case among all those to draw to the Minister's attention tonight, but let me tell him about Geraldine Robinson. Geraldine's picture appeared on the front cover of a Lancashire county council leaflet advertising the care services that it proudly claims it provides to people in the community.

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Geraldine is a young woman who suffers from cerebral palsy. She was fully assessed by Lancashire county council social services in March 1994, and a care package designed specifically for her was finalised in June that year, which provided her with a cost-effective, 24-hour care service package. It enabled her to live an independent life in the community, and it had been based on an assessment of her clinical needs--just as the Government intended. Yet in June of this year, Lancashire county council, which was the author, the House may remember, of the leaflet showing Geraldine's picture and claiming to be able to cater for her needs, told her that her care package would be cut from £700 to £300 a week--not reduced, not trimmed, but cut by more than a half.

Despite several attempts by Geraldine and her carers to question why this decision had been taken, no answer has yet been forthcoming. I can only conclude--as any reasonable person would--that Geraldine is another casualty of the council's inability to manage its resources and keep within its budget.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Elletson: No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I have given way three times already. Normally, there would have to be a reassessment before a care package was reduced, but that did not happen. The council said that its only alternative to reducing her care package would be to force Geraldine into residential care. Of course, she is extremely distressed about that. She has been trying to build a life for herself in the community, and she was encouraged by the county council to live independently, and even to move to a two-bedroomed property to allow more space for her carers.

Geraldine has overcome many personal tragedies, including the death of her fiance in December 1993, but now the county council is turning on her the full pressure of its callous and insensitive bureaucracy. The social services department's actions in the past year have had a massive impact on Geraldine's life. She now has to undergo another comprehensive reassessment at a level the council is unwilling to identify, despite the fact that no significant major change in circumstances or Geraldine's needs or condition has occurred. That is not care in the community, or giving disabled and vulnerable people a greater say in their own lives. That is not enabling people to live in their own home. It is the incompetence of a county administration that has failed miserably to discharge its responsibilities to its most vulnerable citizens.

If the money is not to be spent on people such as Geraldine, where is it to go? I want to know what the priorities of Lancashire social services departments are. Let us look at the case of another young woman far less deserving and needy than Geraldine. She is a constituent of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). Lancashire county council managed to find £2,000 a week for a course of remedial treatment so that she could go on a three-month riding course in Ireland and spend a considerable time in Australia--all, of course, in the company of social workers.

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