Wiltshire Council will be debating the future of Furlong Close at a meeting next week.

Previously, a judicial review against charity operator Hft limited what the local authority could and could not say on the issue.

But now, as circumstances have dramatically changed, the topic will be debated at Full Council next Tuesday (February 23)

A Members Briefing note has been issued to councillors and written by Lucy Townsend interim corporate director for people at Wiltshire Council.

It states: “The council has tried to get clarity from Hft about their plans for Furlong Close, so that we can work together to cause the least stress and anxiety as possible for residents.

“Despite our efforts, the council has not been able to provide the clarity residents need.”

It reveals that the judicial review challenging Hft’s decision to close Furlong Close has failed, and the courts refused permission for the case to continue to a full hearing.

As a result, the topic can be fully debated by councillors.

The council will also be meeting with family members of Furlong Close residents on March 3.

Dated today, the full members briefing can be read below:

“Members were recently sent a briefing on Furlong Close which is run by Home Farm Trust (Hft).  This follow up briefing aims to update Members on recent developments in respect of a) the judicial review process b) Hft writing to the families of residents supported by Wiltshire c) Hft giving notice on their contracts with Wiltshire Council and other Funding Authorities.

Wiltshire Council has statutory responsibility for the care and support of 25 of the residents living at Furlong Close and I have recently written to their families explaining how we will support them as the current situation progresses. The remaining 14 residents are the responsibility of other local authorities.

It has been the council’s aim throughout this difficult time to listen carefully to residents and their families’ views on the potential closure of Furlong Close.

It has been, and remains, the council’s view that to protect the interests of the residents any discussions between Hft and Wiltshire Council should not take place in the public domain. However, as Hft recently sent a letter to residents and their families, we felt it was necessary to respond to some of the points raised and reassure them that the residents at Furlong Close are, and continue to be, our number one priority for the council

You will be aware that Hft has been involved in a legal process (a judicial review) challenging Hft’s decision to close Furlong Close last year. The council was an interested party and not a defendant in the case. Yesterday the court refused permission for the case to continue to a full hearing and unless the court’s decision is challenged, it is now ended.

As  things stand, therefore, full council will now be in a position to debate the petition that it has received on this matter at its meeting on 23 February in accordance with the council’s arrangements for dealing with petitions.

Furlong Close is owned by Hft and not Wiltshire Council. This means that Hft has the responsibility to make decisions about Furlong Close. Decisions about whether Furlong Close will close, as well as the timing of those decisions, must be taken by Hft.

In July 2020, Hft informed Wiltshire Council that they wished to close Furlong Close.  Since being made aware of this, officers have attempted to work in partnership with them to try to find the best solution possible and our priority has been to keep the residents who live at Furlong Close at the centre of Hft’s and Wiltshire Council’s next steps.

In November 2020 Hft decided not to close Furlong Close in June 2021 after all but did not give confirmation of their future intentions. The council has tried to get clarity from Hft about their plans for Furlong Close, so that we can work together to cause the least stress and anxiety as possible for residents. Despite our efforts, the council has not been able to provide the clarity residents need.

Wiltshire Council in principle does not believe a campus style is a model of care we would choose to commission going forward, as we hope people with neuro diverse needs could and should live alongside the wider community not on separate sites away from local communities and neighbourhoods.

However, the council has acknowledged throughout this process how important it is to listen to the views of all residents, their carers and families.  As a council working under the Care Act we recognise many people have lived at Furlong Close for a very long time and some would choose to remain living in this environment.

Alongside the judicial review claim against Hft, some families requested that we agree to pause Care Act assessments and reviews. In order to meet the council’s responsibilities social care teams have contacted all of those residents supported by Wiltshire Council (and their representatives) involved to ensure that their voices were heard and a number of them chose for those assessments to be paused (some did not) as there was mounting concern that those assessments would be used to support the move on from Furlong Close.  For those people whose assessments were paused, this was very important to them as they did not want Wiltshire Council to assume that their family member had to leave Furlong Close, against their wishes. We do not have statutory responsibilities under the Care Act for any residents at Furlong Close supported by other commissioning local authorities (14 residents in total).

If residents wished for the council to continue with their assessment or if there was a change in their needs or circumstances, then assessments have had to continue and have done so throughout this process.

However, as a result of Hft’s actions this week, officers will now be contacting families, carers and residents who have chosen to pause their reviews as soon as possible as we now have to review our position.

The council also note comments in Hft’s letter to residents and families about Wiltshire Council’s funding, including that Wiltshire Council failed to review its fees.  It is important to make you aware that in November 2019, Wiltshire Council agreed a 35% increase in fees for Wiltshire Council residents at Furlong Close.  Fees are now at the top end of what we would expect to pay for this type of care.

Other local authorities who place residents at Furlong Close have also shared what they are paying, which tells us that fees paid by Wiltshire Council are in line with (and often higher than) the fees other local authorities are paying.

The council has requested further details from Hft on the statements made in their letter to families and their letter to the council giving notice on the contract, including details of proposals they have made to Wiltshire Council.

Please be reassured that the council’s priority continues to be to meet the needs of those people we support at Furlong Close.

The council wants to continue an open and ongoing conversation with everyone, so we are very clear about future options. For the council this has always been about the best future options for residents. The social care team at Wiltshire Council has offered to listen and support residents and families and we have reminded families of how they can contact the team directly.

For those residents who are not supported by Wiltshire Council, a copy of the letter sent to family members of residents supported by Wiltshire Council has been shared with the other commissioning local authorities who support residents at Furlong Close for information.

We will also be sending a further invite to a meeting on 3 March 2021 to family members of residents supported by Wiltshire Council. We had hoped to have a joint meeting but Hft declined our offer to attend the first two sessions we held and a joint meeting is no longer going to be possible at this stage.

We hope you find this update useful and we will be keeping you informed as the situation progresses."