Your readers are entitled to be somewhat confused as to the state of the Phoenix Centre in Lewes after a decision taken by East Sussex County Council last week.
The decision was presented in some quarters as a reprieve for the centre, which was threatened with closure, but there are three very worrying elements to this.
Firstly, it will only be a reprieve from closure if the voluntary sector is willing to take it over. Age UK has said it cannot do so as it doesn’t have the resources, and there’s the wider problem that, with people retiring later, the voluntary sector is increasingly aged 70+, so its ability to provide old people’s facilities is going to dwindle.
The Phoenix Centre is therefore far from safe.
Secondly, any further reduction in facilities for elderly people will only lead to further isolation of our senior citizens.
Talk of the private sector taking up some of the slack is fine in theory, but in practice this is not happening. I note the continued failure to hand over the much-loved Harvard Road facility in Ringmer to a private contractor/developer as promised when it was closed four years ago.
Thirdly, this decision was taken by the council’s cabinet, not by full council. That meant that I, as the councillor for Lewes Bridge and much of the area from which the Phoenix Centre takes its visitors, was allowed to speak but not vote. This is a council in which no single party has a majority, yet the minority cabinet has now made far-reaching decisions on nine old people’s facilities without allowing councillors who represent the wider community to vote. This is deeply unsettling.
It would not simply be sad if the Phoenix Centre were to close – it would have far-reaching implications for the welfare of old people in the west of the county.
The county council must be wary of the pitfalls of short-term accounting.
The cost of closing the Phoenix would be much greater in costs further down the line than taking a mature decision now to guarantee its future.
Rosalyn St Pierre
County Councillor (Lib Dem)Lewes Bridge and Ringmer