CARE home bosses have accused a cash-strapped council of wasting more than £350,000 on a doomed legal challenge.
Newcastle City Council chiefs are pushing ahead with plans to appeal a ruling which ordered the authority to pay a higher rate for care services than it would like to pay.
When the council announced it was freezing the rates it pays for the care of elderly and disabled people, care home providers claimed the money did not cover the actual cost of providing the services, and last month a judge agreed.
But as the council prepares to close down libraries and swimming pools in a £90m cuts bonfire, questions are being asked over the decision to increase legal costs which are already substantial. When the judge ruled the council could not legally snub elderly residential homes, such as those run by Care North East, he also warned against any appeal.
Refusing permission to appeal, Judge Gosnell said: “In my view an appeal does not have any real prospect of success. While the defendant wishes to appeal to the Court of Appeal I do not accept that there is anything about this particular case which makes it different from the many previous cases which have already been decided.”
Last night Keith Gray, chairman of Care North East regional, said that legal costs between the two sides and already awarded against the council are in excess of £175,000, with an appeal hearing likely to nearly double that.
He said: “The council seems intent on pursing the appeal despite the judge ruling that he believed it had no prospect of success.
“The council will be liable for our costs if they lose and we are appalled that public money is being wasted in this manner, at a time of massive cuts across the city.
“We are calling on the council to come back to the table and discuss a permanent way forward for us all for now and the future.”
The call for funding talks between the two sides has been backed by former council leader David Faulkner, who admitted Newcastle City Council was in a difficult position. He told The Journal: “It looks as though the city council may be risking further significant cost by going to appeal, so nothing can be lost by opening further discussions to see if this impasse can be resolved.
“I do, however, appreciate that the council is between a rock and a hard place here.
“The cost of care seems to go up and up and councils have less and less money. The council’s judgement needs to be a balance between affordability and quality of care.”
Newcastle City Council referred back to a previous statement in which it said it had secured a stay in the ruling to allow the prospect of a further appeal.
A spokesman said: “At the heart of this issue is an important point of principle.
“We believe that while the council has a moral and legal duty to look after our most vulnerable people, we have no duty to guarantee healthy profits to the companies that do it on our behalf.
“We cannot continue to spend a large proportion of our social care budget on an unsustainable industry.”