The timing was exquisite. Just as prime minister David Cameron was on his feet and extolling the virtues of privatising further swathes of public services, the nation was absorbing the news that the largest private provider of care homes in the UK was packing up. Southern Cross serves as an absolutely perfect example of what can happen if public services end up being treated as businesses or 'investment' opportunities.
I absolutely loved it when a spokesperson for the private care home sector had the audacity to say on the radio that "the problem was that fees paid by Local Authorities for looking after the elderly had not gone up." Err no, the problem is that 751 care homes that used to be owned by Southern Cross were sold off to asset strippers who pocketed the £1billion pounds and saddled the management with rent bills instead! According to him, the public sector should be paying the inflated rents due to property speculators.
We all know that publication of the Public Services White Paper has been delayed for months due to spirited opposition from Lib Dems inside the coalition government. It's a really confusing mix of trying to encourage 'localism', which many feel is no bad thing, with doctrinaire insistence on breaking up public services such as probation. This, despite Cameron saying that public services "are the backbone of the nation."
Well I think the public are going to take some persuading that the Southern Cross debacle is anything other than a stark warning of further disasters to come and that would be inherent in this sort of public service 'reform' plan. Pictures of the elderly and frail being moved out of their care homes as they inevitably close over the next few weeks will quite rightly further embarrass the government and should serve to nicely highlight the differences between public and private service.