COUNCILLORS were booed and heckled as they entered a council meeting last night over proposed changes to reablement services.

They were greeted by around 30 protesters at the Civic Centre in Stockwell Close, Bromley, as they went into the building, including a woman wearing yesterday’s News Shopper front page (Feb 6).

Bromley Council executive committee met yesterday evening to discuss proposals for the extra care housing and reablement services to be open to tender in April this year. This will mean a range of companies can bid to take over the schemes - which offer support to elderly and disabled people - including private providers. Councillors agreed to sign off the tendering process.

Although protesters were forced to put down their placards as they entered the public gallery of the council chamber, the panto-style heckling continued as the councillors took their seats and the meeting began.

As council leader Councillor Stephen Carr said during the meeting: "We are only market-testing the services currently", a jeer rang out across the chamber, "Why don’t we market-test your wages then?"

Another shouted at Bromley Council assistant director of care services David Roberts: "How much do you earn, beardy?"

Kathy Bedden, 57 of Avondale Road, Bromley, was wearing yesterday’s News Shopper front page which discussed the councillors’ u-turn on cutting their own numbers. 

She said: "It’s disgusting. They put costs before people’s lives."

"We save the council millions of pounds a year from the reablement service.”

Shop steward for extra care housing Mary Odoi said: "We are here tonight to save our jobs.

"It should be about good care, not cuts."

Staff side secretary Glenn Kelly said: "It is the old and the vulnerable who are under attack.

"They must save hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"The council is taking it out on the people who need our care the most."

He told councillors: "We don’t want a repeat of Suffolk” (where a woman was left to starve after her nursing care agency was shut down).

Twenty-eight-year-old Robert Shorter, of Darrick Wood Road, Orpington said: "The reason we are here tonight to show we support the service and it should not be shut down.

"We are on the front line and private providers will not provide the same quality of service."

"We live around the corner and so can spend more time with clients as opposed to private company employees who live out of borough.

"I don’t know what will happen to the service if the private companies take over."

Councillor Peter Fookes said there should be caution when considering outsourcing of service and warned against being "naive" where the savings are concerned.

Councillor Colin Smith said: "It is a good service but it is naive not to consider savings from a range of options."

The reablement scheme offers intensive  short-term support so people can relearn daily skills and regain their confidence to live independently.    

Almost 900 people have used the reablement service since March 2010.

Market-testing means the efficiency of public services is tested by exposing them to competition from external providers.

Bromley Council needs to make £30 million of cuts over the next four years and ran a series of consultation meetings on where savings should be made.

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