Article published: Thursday, September 5th 2013
Two day centres for adults with learning disabilities and other care needs are to close after councillors on a Manchester City Council scrutiny committee voted against kicking a “call-in” of the decision back to Town Hall chiefs for reconsideration.
Health Scrutiny Committee chair Councillor Eddie Newman said referring the decision to the Executive meeting on Wednesday 11 September would give “false hope” to carers by only granting six days reprieve for the centres.
Earlier, the Executive member for adult services, Councillor Paul Andrews, said the meeting had done nothing to change his mind about the need for the centres to close in a bid to save £1.7m and that delay would incur further running costs and cause more cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Outraged carers had fiercely opposed cuts to the service and the initial decision in July had itself been criticised by the Health Scrutiny Committee, which questioned reports justifying the closures.
Liberal Democrat councillors had called in the decision for renewed scrutiny, with opposition leader Councillor Simon Wheale arguing that “the democratic process has not yet ended” and that the council should consider the role of the voluntary and community sector in mitigating closures.
Robert Churchill, whose daughter uses the closure-threatened Northfield centre, said he felt let down by the committee’s decision. “I believe they’re frightened of the Executive,” he said. “Last time they stood up for us, but now it’s done and dusted.”
Debbie Tilbrook, who addressed the meeting on behalf of the carers, said cuts to the service including closures and recent care reassessments that are alleged to be drastically reducing the number of days per week people are eligible for the centres would have a “catastrophic” impact.
Tilbrook warned councillors that a report justifying the cuts was riddled with “inconsistencies”, and said decisions on such a crucial service should be “based on facts and not fiction”. She claimed that several discrepancies had come to light as a result of research by carers, including:
- The figure of 365 people using the centres was later contradicted in the report by occupancy levels indicating a figure of 421 users. When calculated against available care sessions this would indicate that Manchester had spare capacity for just 15 extra users.
- The closure of two centres earlier in the year and transfer to other providers meant that the city was operating on a five-centre model rather than a seven-centre model.
- The consultation was reported as having officially begun in February. Parents and relatives of service users at meetings on 5 April and 9 May in Moston’s Northfield centre asked council officers whether they were in a consultation and were told it was “just a proposal”.
- Investigating the listings in a booklet that claimed 134 signposted places with activities for people with low or moderate needs were available in Manchester revealed that only 13 were “viable daytime activities between 9am and 4pm”.
In response, council officers said people assessed as having critical or substantial needs would still have access to the centres. People considered to have low or moderate needs would be signposted to “universal settings” such as libraries and leisure centres because the council had no statutory duty to directly provide them with activities.
After the meeting, carers said the council’s eligibility assessments urgently needed reform. “The assessments are not working”, argued Tilbrook, who warned that cuts would have serious consequences. “I’ve spoke to parents in the last two weeks and people are heartbroken.”
Sue Ashton, whose daughter is a user of Heathfields, said: “We know we’ve got these cuts from this government and I hate this government”, but insisted that “this is an essential service. [The council are] not spending money correctly.”
She added, “I don’t think they’ve heard the end of this”.
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