ANSWERS will be demanded tonight over delays and secrecy around a multi-million pound project to build two "super care homes" in York.
Seven City of York Council care homes are due to be replaced by new homes on the former Lowfield and Burnholme school sites at a projected construction cost of £25 million to £30 million.
But councillors will tonight demand answers about what is happening with the Elderly Persons' Home projects at a full council meeting, amid claims there are problems and they are being kept in the dark.
The new care home facilities will offer specialist support for elderly people with dementia and high dependency needs.
The Press has asked the council numerous questions over the past four months about the project's cost, timescales and progress but has not received answers, with health director Dr Paul Edmondson-Jones saying it would be "irresponsible" to debate timescales or costs during the competitive dialogue process.
Westfield councillor Lynn Jeffries, of the Liberal Democrats, said: “We already know that Labour’s Elderly Persons’ Homes programme will be late, over-budget and deliver fewer beds than originally promised. We also know that the failure to deliver this programme is having a significant impact on the adult social care budget as Labour were banking on the programme delivering £800,000 in savings before 2015. We therefore need urgent answers over the latest timetable and budget situation."
Cllr Jeffries and Conservative Paul Doughty say councillors are being kept in the dark. It is unclear whether the matter will be allowed to be discussed tonight, in light of Dr Edmondson-Jones's stance.
Cllr Doughty, vice chair of the health overview and scrutiny committee, said: “I am fed up of hearing the same guarded 'going through the procurement process' answer with no further information. After questioning in January and April, I was told that the council would be in a position to give more information in June but it is now mid-July and still no news.
"To 'pacify' me presumably, I was even told information is not shared with the cabinet member which I find astounding.
“It's now time to quit with the secrecy. The council needs to give some honest answers. We are not asking to see who gets what in the contract stakes, not yet at least, but I was elected to represent the people of this city and I do not accept we cannot be given simple answers such as how long will the process take, when will building begin and when can some of our city's most vulnerable residents finally be given 21st century facilities?”
Conservative leader Chris Steward added too much information was hidden from the public, and said: "There is a vast difference between publicising individual procurement tenders which would clearly be wrong and merely updating on the process."
When questioned, Dr Edmondson-Jones said the council was bound by a strict duty of confidentiality during the procurement process so could not comment.
He added: "It is worth stressing that any debate around the potential cost or timescale or the number of bidders at this stage is irresponsible and may have a significant impact on the final cost and viability of the scheme, and therefore on York taxpayers.”
Building on the project, which will provide 162 beds, should start in 2015 and be finished by 2016.
Last month, Conservative councillors said adult social care in the city was in "meltdown" following the departure of social care assistant directors Kathy Clark and Graham Terry.
Around the same time, Cllr Linsay Cunningham-Cross took over cabinet member responsibility for health, replacing Cllr Tracey Simpson-Laing.
Cllr Cunningham-Cross said: "There is no secrecy regarding the EPH re provision programme. The council is in competitive dialogue and therefore there are some things that cannot be shared at this time due to commercial sensitivity. This is quite usual for a project of this scale.
"I am holding regular cross-party briefings with representatives from across the political parties in York in order to keep them fully informed of all aspects of my portfolio including elderly persons homes and am more than happy to share information with my fellow councillors and welcome their support as we tackle the significant challenges that all local authorities face in relation to adult social care."
Earlier this year it was reported York was among the worst performing places in the country for hospital bed blocking, where patients were ready to leave hospital or care but could not because there was nowhere for them to go.