Friday, 20 May 2011

Update: Meeting (not) with Grant Shapps

An interesting judgement and one with far-reaching implications is reported in today's Telegraph in which it is stated that Britain’s biggest council has been told its plans to cut care services for elderly and severely disabled people are “unlawful” and must be scrapped, in a landmark High Court judgement with wide-ranging implications for social care - one that may well open yet another of any governments favourite playthings - a Pandora's Box!

It has never ceased to amaze me the number of times that recourse to legal action is necessary to correct the application of what amounts to no more than political policy dogma - a process quite often undertaken using Legal Aid, which means the government of the day is in effect paying to correct its own errors - when a reasoned discussion between the parties concerned is all that is necessary.

Apropos to the Telegraph article - and the previous paragraph - I would refer to my post on, at the time, a forthcoming meeting with Grant Shapps. The "meeting" did take place on the 12th of this month, although it would hardly be called a success. The agenda was to bring to the attention of the Minister the following: (1) actions by landlords that override contract law; (2) oversight of housing associations and method of operation and inadequacy of redress under the current system; (3) contravention of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005; (4) contravention of the Housing Act 1988 and the Landlord & Tenant Act 1987; (5) contravention of guidance issued by Andrew Hamilton, Deputy Secretary, Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety; and (6) disallowance by the Legal Services commission of 117 cases for legal aid, a decision which David Cameron agreed, in a previous meeting with me, was 'arbitrary' and 'wrong'.

The above agenda had been known since March and at Grant Shapps' suggestion it was agreed that representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission would attend the planned meeting as certain matters were "outside his remit". I was advised on 21st April that "We anticipate having a lawyer present at the meeting and I expect that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will want a policy official and legal colleague to attend also". At 07:34 on 11th May I emailed a Ms. Ellie Simcox, via whom all arrangements had been made, to advise the name of the solicitor who would be accompanying me (who was the solicitor whose 117 cases were "dismissed") at which point, lo and behold, an email was sent by that person at 18:06 to inform me that the Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission had withdrawn their representatives because "...we understand that there is ongoing legal action in respect of the legal aid cases you have mentioned to us previously, point (6) in your list, and it would be inappropriate for them to attend in these circumstances." Were that true, which it is not - the legal action ongoing relates to the firm that was dealing with the cases having their legal aid contract terminated, an entirely separate issue, coupled with the point that the Legal Services Commission has stated that it can give "exceptional case" legal aid to that firm - I fail to see any difficulty with their attending the meeting. Even if the reason had been correct - and as I said, it was not - there is nothing to stop a discussion to resolve issues in advance of a Court hearing and I believe it correct to say the courts actively encourage attempts to resolve 'differences' outside litigation.

Also advised in the email from Ellie Simcox at 18:06 on 11th May was the fact that the meeting would be attended by Roger Wilshaw, Deputy Director, Homelessness & Support. I have to question what "Homelessness & Support"  - and linking the two words "Homelessness" and "Support" would suggest that the 'support' is for the 'homeless' - has to do with the subjects which I wished to raise. To compound matters, on arrival at the meeting we were informed that Grant Shapps was unable to attend as he was dealing with "urgent matters" - at the request of David Cameron - together with the fact that Roger Wilshaw had only been 'in post' for one week. As it turned out, Grant Shapps did make an appearance for all of ten minutes and then left, having presented an attitude of apparent indifference. What followed was just over an hour of 'note taking' with the promise that draft minutes would be produced and sent to me. As an aside, the promised draft minutes have yet to materialise, but I digress. In that meeting I forcibly registered my disgust at the non-attendance of the MoJ and LSC together with the absence of Grant Shapps. I also raised the subjects detailed in my agenda and informed those personnel of the DCLG who were present (Ms. Ellie Simcox) that I had documentary confirmation of my accusations, yet not once was I requested to produce that evidence, nor was any attempt made to discuss the accusations.

In view of the, dare I say, "cavalier" manner in which we considered we were treated, I have requested David Cameron intervene to ensure that the meeting is reconvened - with the promised attendees - and allowed additional time so that the various matters can be fully discussed and hopefully a course of action agreed. Without that, those like me will consider that, despite the "comforting" public statements, Cameron does not care about the plight of the vulnerable in sheltered housing, including the terminally ill, those that have died and those at risk from death from the loss of their contracted service.  In conclusion I have pointed out to him that I am sure that he would agree - in view of his statement reported by Patrick Hennesey in the Sunday Telegraph on 2/10/10 that the "poorest and most vulnerable" would be protected - that the reputation of his government would be further damaged were I to contact the Witney Gazette who, again in his own words, "as a local newspaper strengthens democracy by holding the powerful to account", in the hope that they would "analyse what central government is doing and the impact their policies have on the ground and act as a voice of their readers.

Not that I am holding my breath, either with Cameron or the Witney Gazette............ 

Breaking News: Half an hour after emailing David Cameron, an email was received apologising for the delay in the production of the draft minutes and containing a promise that they would be forwarded to me next week.

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