Basildon Tories axe OAPs' Careline service six days after it saved an elderly woman's life, claiming private companies will be cheaper

By Charles Thomson in Politics

TORY councillors in Basildon have axed a community alarm service for vulnerable OAPs.

Basildon Council’s conservative cabinet claimed the Careline service – which places alarm buttons around pensioners’ homes in case of accidents and emergencies – was too expensive.

Councillors said they would ’direct people to providers who can offer a cheaper, more bespoke’ service.

They claimed the alternative was to raise the price, saying: “Unless the cost is increased significantly, the service is not sustainable.”

Almost 3,000 Basildon residents are signed up the council service, plus another 1,300 outside the borough. They each pay £3.98 per week.

The council claimed that in order to keep providing the service, it would have had to start charging £4.85 per week.

It said that in a consultation of 1,760 service users, 64 per cent said £4.85 per week was too expensive, whilst a quarter of the 1,400 service users living in sheltered accommodation no longer wanted it at all.

A spokesman said: “The council intends to procure a bespoke service for those that require it in sheltered accommodation for the over-60s. Other individuals will be signposted to alternative providers who can offer these services at a lower cost.”

Labour and UKIP councillors had opposed the move, saying the only way a private company could offer the service cheaper would be if it had less staff on hand to respond. They also voiced fears that the cut could lead to an increase in 999 calls to the ’already stretched ambulance service’.

The service was axed six days after it saved an elderly woman from a fire in her home.

The woman, in her 70s, discovered the oven in her Pitsea home was on fire and went to tackle the blaze, but fell to the floor as her home filled with smoke.

Using her Careline alarm, she summoned help and was rescued having suffered only minor smoke inhalation.

Tory council leader Phil Turner defended the cut, 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.”

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