Published: 15/05/2007 00:00 - Updated: 25/11/2011 21:20

U-turn hope in city care homes sell-off

PLANS to sell off two Inverness council-run homes for the elderly to the private sector are to be reviewed, prompting fresh hope among campaigners of a last-minute U-turn. The new SNP-Independent administration running Highland Council confirmed yesterday it would look again at the controversial policy and in particular at the information presented to councillors before the decision was made. "We need a complete review of the decisions taken thus far and it is something we will be demanding with our coalition partners," said newly-elected SNP group leader John Finnie. "It is early days yet but we will be seeking clarity on the current position and on the rationale given to reach this decision." Under the proposal, six care homes across the region, including Burnside and Ach an Eas in Inverness, would be transferred to the private sector along with their residents because the local authority says it would be uneconomic for it to bring the buildings up to modern standards. The money raised would be invested in improving services for looking after people in their own homes. One of the key advocates of the plan has been Councillor Margaret Davidson, the former housing and social work convener, who as an Independent councillor is now a member of the ruling coalition. She could not be contacted yesterday to discuss the latest developments. News of the review was immediately welcomed by SNP MSP Fergus Ewing, a critic of the plan, and the Highland Senior Citizens' Network. "I am pleased that there will be a review and, in particular, a review which will hopefully involve a fresh appraisal of the figures," said Mr Ewing, who represents Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber. "I have always felt that the decision was wrong and that the council rushed ahead with it." The network claims council figures detailing the cost of running the homes are flawed and insists it is not too late to reverse the policy. "We have made a point of looking very carefully at the election leaflets and most of them have referred to care of the elderly as a high priority for this council," said spokeswoman Sheila Mackay. "We welcome this news. We want to see them put their money where their mouths are and do something about this. The new councillors have a responsibility to the elderly people of the Highlands to get this mess sorted out as quickly as possible. This is their chance." A tense week of negotiations came to a conclusion on Friday with the coalition announcement, which spells a new era for the local authority, where officials have been accused of setting policy in the past. The council will be led by Independent councillor Sandy Park (Nairn) in the role of convener with the SNP's Jean Urquhart, Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalash, as vice-convener. The arrangement between the 35 Independents and the 17 SNP members gives the new administration a majority of 24 in the 80-member Highland Council. The opposition includes 21 Liberal Democrat members and seven Labour councillors. Councillor Park said the Independents' decision to form a coalition with the SNP had been unanimous. "We plan to make this work — it is going to be a successful partnership," he said, adding he had no concerns about the Independent members working together as a group. He revealed talks had taken place between all political parties and partnership with the SNP had been seen as most favourable. "The SNP has a lot of young councillors and some very experienced councillors," he added. "Their manifesto is similar to Highland Council's priority list and obviously the SNP is in government at this moment in time. We would also like to see our SNP partners open a few more financial doors down in Edinburgh." Mr Finnie said the SNP was happy about the agreement and the workings of the coalition. "The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As with any other party there may be difficulties, however consensus politics will apply in this coalition arrangement as it does in any other." Lib Dem group leader Michael Foxley was disappointed his party's proposals to form a coalition with the SNP had been unsuccessful. The first meeting of the new Highland Council takes place on Thursday. h.paterson@inverness-courier.co.uk

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