Will it Moreton? Heswall? Or maybe Eastham? That is now the question being asked by mums and dads, staff and volunteers and, of course, people who rely on the day centres. The day centres (or ‘adult training centres’) provide day care for adults with learning difficulties. Many of the people who use them are collected door-to-door by bus and offered activities during the day. This also, of course, gives their families and carers a break or the time to do another job.
As part of the Council’s ‘What Really Matters’ consultation (and if looking after people who need round the clock care doesn’t ‘really matter’, then what does?), the budget option proposed the closure of one large day service and two small mental health services, to save UP TO £0.75M in the first year and, after that, looking to investigate the creation of a social enterprise or mutual/cooperative to save a further £1.25M.
Now, today, the Dear Leader is stressing that nobody will lose the service they currently have, just that it will be based somewhere else for some. Of course, he is right. But what he fails to address is the ‘client group’ that this particular cut will affect. It’s not like closing a school, where children will be relocated and may quickly adapt. Nor is it like closing an office, and expecting all the staff to readjust after a few weeks.
The day centres are there for people who, not always but very often, are in need of routine and continuity. People who are very often frightened and distressed by the slightest change in their daily lives and who do not cope well with upheavals. People also, who cannot easily nip down the pub, escape to the match or go off in search of new friends but who, instead, often find it difficult to make friends, who may have only a very, very small circle of friends who they know and trust and friends who, if a centre closes, may be split up across other centres. That just cannot be right.
Chris Blakeley, Steve Williams and I have often called into the centre on Pasture Road over the years. It’s always been a very happy environment and one in which the families and carers appreciate.
In an era of ‘choice’, many adults with physical and learning difficulties are being given a greater say in how they spend their day, through the use of ‘personal budgets’ and that is a fantastic thing for those who can exercise a choice but, equally, we mustn’t assume that everyone who uses a day centre now is either willing or capable of making a choice or that their choice would be to do something else.
Yes, the day centres haven’t always been at the front of the queue for repair and maintenance but that’s not the reason being given for possible closure. This is about across-the-board cuts, regardless of the impact.
If council on 5th March agree to the closure of one ‘large’ day centre and the consolidation of three Mental health Centres into one, within one week the Director and Senior Leadership Team will identify the centre that may need to close and will then begin a further detailed 12 week consultation period leading into the implementation of the closure of one centre. Given the timescales involved this is likely to mean closure in the Spring.
As my colleague Jeff Green says in the papers today, when officers suggested he close a day centre or two, he rightly told them to think again. And, in the old days when I was in the Cabinet, I made a similar point, way off my portfolio at the time, but nonethless, using the influence such a position gave me to say ‘no way’ to moves such as this during cabinet discussion, on and off ‘camera’.
Labour opposed cuts when we ran the council. Nothing has changed except they now run the council. So either they were being opportunistic then or I am being opportunistic now. Neither helps the staff and families in Moreton, Heswall or Eastham.
So let me make it clear – and to avoid any possible confusion among any of the three political groups currently represented in the Town Hall - I don’t care which of you run the council now or in the future – if you come to the Council chamber and ask me/tell me/expect me to vote for something like this, I’ll tell you to shove it.
Even at this stage, it’s not too late for the Cabinet to have a rethink. I suspect everyone in the Borough, regardless of Party politics, would think more of the Cabinet if they held their hands up now, acknowledged they have made a mistake and go back to the drawing board. They could, for example, look at some of the grants they have sent back to the Government or the reserves of cash they are building up in the bank.
Equally, I’m not going to use personal abuse against them for this decision – I didn’t like their attempts to slander me in the by-election and I won’t be using those tactics now, or in the future. And I don’t think for one minute that any of the Cabinet came into politics in order to cause the kind of distress that is now being felt by our most vulnerable adults but I had hoped that after the scandals uncovered by Martin Morton, all councillors would be even more careful when making policy in future.
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