BASILDON Council has announced plans to axe a care service for vulnerable OAPs - in the same week that it saved an elderly woman from a fire.
The authority revealed plans last Wednesday to scrap emergency alarm service Careline.
The £3.98 per week service installs alarms in elderly residents’ homes, in case of accidents.
Two days after Tory councillors announced plans to axe the scheme, it saved a lady in her 70s who had fallen over during a fire in her bungalow.
The woman – who lived in sheltered accommodation at Mill Green Court in Pitsea – realised there was a fire in her oven but fell on her way to the kitchen, as the property began to fill with smoke.
She called for help via her Careline service and suffered only minor smoke inhalation as a result, although her property was damaged by the blaze.
Almost 3,000 Basildon residents are signed up, plus 1,300 outside the borough.
But Basildon Council said last week: “Unless the cost is increased significantly, the service is not sustainable.”
Critics have accused the Tory cabinet of penalising elderly residents after decades of paying taxes, and voiced fears that the cut will lead to a rise in 999 calls.
The council said it would help users find private firms to offer the scheme cheaper, but opposition members said they believed residents would end up paying more or getting a worse service.
UKIP leader Linda Allport-Hodge said: “The ways to make the service more commercially successful are to reduce staff or increase the price. Who does that benefit? Not our residents.
“We are facing a £9m black hole in our budget, but UKIP believes this is a short-term solution. For the council to just keep chopping services to save a bob or two in year one isn’t the solution.
“We believe the sustainable, long-term solution is to look at economies of scale and forming a large unitary authority with our neighbours.”
Labour leader Gavin Callaghan said his group would oppose the move, saying: “Scrapping Careline will be a bitter blow for many vulnerable residents. It’s a vital service.”
His Labour colleague Andrew Gordon added: “My grandad used to have Careline before he required 24/7 care. It was a lifeline for him.
“It frustrates me that people who have worked hard for the town are being penalised. Grandad is a tough cookie, worked hard all his life and the service wasn’t free either. I wonder also what impact taking away this service will have on an already stretched ambulance service.”
Tory council leader Phil Turner defended the plan, saying: “I think it’s a really good move for residents. We can’t offer them value for money but we can help them find a provider that can. I think the service levels are going to be just as good.”
Asked why the council could not simply emulate the private model and make its own service more efficient, he responded: “That requires investment and that’s something that we’ve got a problem with at the moment. What we would effectively have to do is become fully commercial, take market share, go beyond Basildon and take other operators’ business away from them. As a borough council, that’s not a market we want to enter into.”
The council’s cabinet was due to discuss the plan in a public meeting at 7pm this Thursday at the Bas Centre.