Politicians clash as OAPs face new charges

Councillor Paul Kelly, left, with council leader Jim Logue, says charges can't be avoided.
Councillor Paul Kelly, left, with council leader Jim Logue, says charges can't be avoided.

Politicians have clashed after it was announced that pensioners will have to pay for personal alarms and day care services.

North Lanarkshire Council was branded “heartless” for imposing the charges, but the Labour-run council said the blame lies squarely with the Scottish Government for slashing budgets.

From next month users will have to pay £5 a week for the community alarm service which up to now has been free.

The service was introduced in 1999 and numbers using it have risen from 2000 a year to more than 10,000.

The new joint integration board set up to run health and social care services says North Lanarkshire Council is one of a small number of Scottish local authorities who haven’t yet charged for personal alarms.

A charge of £10 per session for integrated day services is being brought in too.

That will be on top of the £4.81 users pay for lunch at the centres they attend. Around 400 older people benefit from this service which is provided at new council facilities in Motherwell, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth, Airdrie and Shotts.

Board chairman Councillor Harry McGuigan said: “All public service agencies are facing unprecedented pressure on their finances whilst demand is increasing year on year due, in part, to an ageing population. We must be in a position to meet demand while protecting this important, high quality service.”

Vice-chair Dr Avril Osborne added: “The contribution will ensure the high standard of service users currently receive will be maintained.

“Everyone affected has been informed and a full financial check is being offered to ensure they are receiving the benefits they should be.”

Councillor Paul Kelly, the council’s depute leader and a member of the joint integration board, said he has “total sympathy” with pensioners faced with these charges, but the authority had no choice.

He said: “No one comes into politics to cut services for those who need them most. Over the last five years we have managed to protect our most vulnerable people from cuts, but not any more.

“The newly-formed board had to make more than £6 million in cuts ordered by the Scottish Government. It’s time the Government took local government seriously because this isn’t acceptable, and we need to get the public on our side here.”

Councillor David Stocks, leader of the council’s SNP group, described the charges as “staggering”. He said: “Labour has been heartless in this matter. To jump from free services to £5 a week and £10 a session shows a total lack of understanding of financial pressures on our elderly residents.

“Labour has refused to accept the SNP’s budget strategy of using part of the £12 million contingency fund which sits permanently in the council’s financial reserves.”

Councillor Stocks said the SNP had opposed the charges and it was “contemptible” for Labour to pass the buck on the issue to the new joint integration board, but Councillor Kelly said the SNP’s member on the integrated joint board hadn’t raised any objection.