Thursday, 11 October 2012

Diary of a Chambermaid: Grooming Geriatrics

Is Colin Lambert Taking His Eye Off The Ball Again?

WHEN the report by the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board was published last month into the exploitation of children in Rochdale, a local MP Jim Dobbin said that owing to the shock of the Peter Connolly case, a toddler who died after suffering terrible abuse in London, social services in Rochdale 'took their eye off the ball' by concentrating on small children and neglecting the plight of vulnerable teenagers.  Mr Dobbin said:  'After the Baby P scandal social services across the country, including Rochdale, became too focused on younger children and younger families.'  At the time, Rochdale Council's leader, Colin Lambert, who works closely with Jim Dobbin in Heywood, Rochdale, seemed to echo these sentiments.  It sounded nice then as a comment to make to the media, but if we now start to focus on vulnerable teenagers might not adult care suffer?

Yesterday, it was announced in the Rochdale Observer that 'high-level talks have already begun between council leaders and Link4Life to thrash out how the new organisation [to outsource adult social care services] would work'.  Chris Jones in the Rochdale Observer (Wednesday 10th, Oct.) writes:  'Town hall chiefs want to out-source adult social care services as they bid to slash £45m from their budget over the next two years' and that 'their preferred partner is Link4Life - the organisation which currently runs Rochdale Leisure Centre and Touchstones Museum, but which has no background in adult care.'  Link4Life has already had a colourful and controversial history in the management of some of its operations in the town, particularly with regard to arts and heritage.

Sheila Downey, Rochdale council's director of adult care services, told the Rochdale Observer'This could be in partnership with an already existing social enterprise and we are working with Link4Life about a possible partnership.'  Ms. Downey added:  'If the council does decide to enter into a partnership with Link4Life there would be a distinct social care arm of the organisation, and staff already working in adult social care would continue to provide services.' 

Saving are expected to be in the area of about £500,000, out of the £45m the Council hopes to save by April 2015.

But what of the risks involved?  As I write, Councillor Lambert is being threatened by Meadows Care, the biggest private care firm in Rochdale, which has instructed barristers and is considering issuing a writ against Councillor Lambert.  Colin Lambert has criticised independent private children's homes after the conviction of nine men for abusing young girls earlier in the year.  Meadows Care were not involved in the scandal and it has since lost several placements, it claims, as a result of Councillor Lambert's comments.  This legal threat comes as it was announced that Steve Garner, Rochdale's head of children's services, has resigned.

Now imagine, if you will, a situation in an Edwardian terrace-house context in the North of England rather similar to that portrayed by Octave Mirbeau in his book The Diary of a Chambermaid, only placed among the modern English working-class rather than in French high society.   In the French novel the Chambermaid, Mademoiselle Célestine works for a man who fetishizes her boots, and she later discovers the old man dead, with one of her boots stuffed in his mouth. Now in the North of England one mustn't expect such a sophisticated drama but consider the possibility of an elderly man who encourages young lasses from the local school to enjoy the comforts of his home while they tart themselves up in readiness for the youth club; perhaps the man is merely a voyeur who likes to be close to and to watch the young lasses dress and make themselves up. A decade may pass and the school girls grow up and are gradually replaced by other younger generations until the man himself becomes very old, weak and vulnerable. Yes, perhaps one of these girls is different from the others, senses some weakness in the old man and is able to turn the situation around; as Mademoiselle Célestine did in Octave Mirbeau's novel by becoming a bourgeois cafe hostess, who mistreats her servants in turn. Perhaps one of the girls will start to dominate the old man and gain control of his possessions so it becomes like a kind of geriatric grooming: are the politicians and civil servants, who run our towns so lacking in imagination that they cannot grasp that the tables can be turned so that we could end up with old vulnerable people being manipulated. In The Diary of a Chambermaid, Mademoiselle Célestine draws the conclusion which the reader is also invited to draw: 'However much riffraff are vile, they are never as vile as decent people'.

Councillor Lambert and other council bosses may well be playing with fire as they ponder the possibility of out-sourcing adult care to Link4Life.

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