Protesters have slammed a council’s decision to close the last local authority-run care homes in the region as ‘undemocratic’.
Durham County Council’s cabinet voted to close its remaining five care homes in April, despite widespread objection to the plans.
The authority says it cannot afford to keep the homes open amid the Government’s austerity measures.
Within the coming months, Cheveley House in Belmont, Feryemount in Ferryhill, Grampian House in Peterlee, Mendip House in Chester-le-Street and Newtown House in Stanhope, will all be closed down.
Around 40 elderly people will be forced to find alternative care and the 172 staff will lose their jobs.
Yesterday, protesters to keep Newtown House open teamed up with union campaigners and Durham People’s Assembly to protest against the closures at the authority’s County Hall headquarters in Durham ahead of a full council meeting.
The group is calling for councillors to make a U-turn and put the closure plans to a meeting of all councillors, claiming the cabinet should not have been able to take an executive decision on the move.
Paul Simpson, from the Durham People’s Assembly, said: “The council’s cabinet has decided to close the remaining council-run care homes in County Durham and we just feel this is appalling, really. The fact that the executive just made the decision was undemocratic and it could have been done in a much better way.
“We understand that they have had their revenue severely reduced by central government but we think that, even with the cuts, keeping the homes open is something the council could and should be funding, particularly in the rural communities.
“The plans are already putting severe stress on the residents, first and foremost, but also the 172 staff who jobs will be lost if these closures go ahead. At a time when employment is so high in the North East, the council should be doing a lot more to protect jobs.”
Durham County Council says the homes are not fit for purpose and would cost £4.1m to maintain over the next decade. The decision followed a 12-week consultation.
Rachael Shimmin, corporate director of children and adult services, said: “We know this is a very emotive issue and understand that people feel very strongly. Before making any decisions about the future of care homes, the council carried out an extensive three-month consultation to gather the views and opinions of residents and their families, carers and staff.
“We would like to assure people that the council’s cabinet considered all of the feedback received and this was balanced against a wide range of factors, including a fall in demand for residential care places, particularly in regard to our own care homes; the need for significant investment in the five properties; and the availability of suitable, lower cost accommodation within the independent sector as well as significant financial pressures due to government funding cuts.”