‘End uncertainty over care homes’

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The union representing thousands of staff at care homes giant Southern Cross is calling on the Government to step in to end ‘uncertainty’ over the future as the company continues to try to resolve its financial difficulties.

The firm, responsible for looking after 31,000 elderly residents, has announced that it will underpay its rent as it struggles with a £230m annual rental bill.

Southern Cross owns almost 750 care homes, including three in this area – Cams Ridge in Fareham, Hamilton House in Drayton and Woodcot Lodge in Gosport.

It will pay nearly a third less rent than it is obliged to for the next four months in what is effectively a loan from its landlords.

The company recently warned it was in a ‘critical financial condition’ as it unveiled a £311m loss in the six months to March 31.

The GMB union, which has around 12,000 members working in the care homes, today urged politicians to take action to help secure the future for the staff and the residents.

General secretary Paul Kenny said: ‘The focus now has to be on what happens to the 31,000 elderly and vulnerable residents in Southern Cross homes across the UK.’

The GMB will discuss the future of Southern Cross in an emergency debate at its annual conference in Brighton next week.

Southern Cross chairman Christopher Fisher said: ‘We believe that all of the key stakeholders in Southern Cross want this restructuring to succeed.’

The group said it expects to make a further statement about its restructuring proposals in July.

Care services minister Paul Burstow said: ‘It is for Southern Cross, its landlords and those with a stake in the business to put in place a plan to put the company on a firm footing. That is what they are doing.’

Shadow health secretary John Healey said: ‘Thousands of very vulnerable people and their families will be worried sick by what’s being reported about Southern Cross. Ministers must get a plan B in place if the company can’t sort out its problems.

‘People need to know they won’t be left high and dry by the decisions of city hedge fund managers.’

Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman gave a guarantee that affected residents would not ‘lose out’ in the process.

But he declined to discuss whether there was any contingency in care budgets to meet any extra needs arising from the case.