Learning disability services in Worcestershire will be slashed as part of £32 million of budget cuts planned by county council chiefs.
More than £2 million is to be cut from the learning disability budget as the council battles to balance the books in the year ahead.
This will affect day services for those with learning disabilities, including Connect and Resource centres.
The proposals have been condemned by Labour leader Coun Peter McDonald. “Such ill thought out proposals will have a devastating impact,” he said.
All learning disability services are under review and centres could be cut back or face closure to meet the financial pressures. Some services could alternatively be outsourced to private organisations.
Also in the firing line are other adult social care services, as well as the county’s award winning libraries service, street lighting and waste services, housing support linked to mental health and respite care for severely disabled children.
The council is also digging into its reserves to help fill the funding gap, leaving the county vulnerable to emergencies in future years.
The council is currently consulting on its draft budget plans, although it is only planning to ask selected organisations and groups to have their say. It has opted not to follow the examples of Wyre Forest, Worcester City and Birmingham City councils, who are all carrying out full consultation with residents.
Their plans, which were approved for consultation by the nine-member Conservative Cabinet last month, include the following key points:
- Spending to be cut by £32 million (£31 million already identified, with an extra £1 million to be found)
- Council tax to rise by 4.94%, with 3% of the additional funds earmarked for adult social care
Council leader Simon Geraghty told the Cabinet:
“There are many positives. There is a lot of investment going on in the areas that people have said are the most important to them. We are asking people to pay extra to be able to maintain those services and invest in them…
“It is not paying more for less, it is paying more for considerable investments in areas people have said are important to them.”
In brief, the cuts include the following:
- £1.93 million from learning disability services following a full review
- An additional £522,000 cut, over two years, from learning disability day services
- Learning disability replacement care services are also under review, with a savings target of £230,000 over two years
- £3.6 million to be cut from environmental services, including waste services and street lighting
- £1 million reduction in county libraries service over three years (£200,000 this year, followed by £500,000 in 2019 and £300,000 in 2020)
- £600,000 to be cut following a workforce spending review, with an additional £150,000 reduction in staffing costs
- Save £500,000 by ensuring residents claim all their Work & Pensions benefits and so increase the amount they can contribute to their own care
- £250,000 reduction in IT budget by bringing services back ‘in-house’
- £210,000 drop in education spending following a review of internal and contracted services budget
Reviews of other key services are also going ahead in a bid to make further savings by 2020.
A review of the services which support independence at home through adaptations and aids is already under way. The council has committed now to cut its spending on these vital services by £230,000 in 2019.
Other reductions in overall spending are envisaged by finding new sources of income, joint commissioning and partnership working with other agencies and businesses and by getting private partners to bid for some services.
The council’s overall budget for the year is £324 million.
The proposals were first unveiled at a Cabinet meeting last month (Dec 14) when leader of the Conservative-led council, Councillor Simon Geraghty, pledged to consult with the public about the plans before approval in February.
In his report he stated the 2018-19 budget proposals will be the subject of a wide consultation process from December 2017 to January 2018. Feedback from this will inform the budget setting process and be reported to Cabinet (and Council) in February 2018.
However, to date there has been no general consultation carried out and barely any coverage of the proposed cuts in traditional media.
In a statement the council said it is consulting with parish and town councils, voluntary and community organisations, businesses, school governors, head teachers, partners and staff associations. The council did not respond to a request for more details and evidence of consultation.
It also said any members of the public who wanted to comment could contact their county councillor.
The list of proposed cuts – referred to by the council as ‘transformation reforms’ – are contained in a lengthy report to the Cabinet, which you can view here. Appendix C containing a three page list of planned cuts can be found on pages 37-39.
The priorities identified by the public last year are reflected in the budget decisions, says the report to Cabinet.
The three priorities identified via a survey of around 3,000 residents were:
- Safeguarding vulnerable young people
- Protecting vulnerable older people, particularly those with physical, learning and mental health difficulties
- Maintaining the highway
We asked the council for an interview with the council leader, deputy leader or cabinet member for transformation to help make sense of the proposals, but this was rejected.
We were told Simon Geraghty was away and nobody else could be interviewed about the budget because finance was his area of specialism.
“A media briefing will take place in February,” added the spokeswoman.
Labour group leader Coun Peter Mcdonald, speaking at the invitation of the Cabinet at the meeting on December 14, said the budget “lacked vision” and continued the council’s programme of austerity.
The Budget will next be discussed by the full Council next Thurday (January 18th) before being further discussed by the Cabinet for approval on February 8th.
RESPONSE TO LEARNING DISABILITY SERVICES REVIEW PROPOSAL
Coun Peter McDonald, leader of the Labour group, is leading calls against the proposed changes to learning disability services.
He attempted to ‘call in’ plans for the review, claiming the consultation proposed was flawed, and that the way forward had already been decided.
Speaking at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Performance Board on December 6, he argued the plans were financially driven and were not in the best interests of those using the services. The quality of the service provided and the excellence of the staff was not mentioned, and there had not been complaints about the service, he said.
He said it was clear to him that a decision to reduce or close the 12-week Connect service “had already been made”. The report is financially driven and designed to privatise some services, he claimed.
“Such ill thought out proposals will have a devastating impact.”
Coun Juliet Brunner said it was important that the views of carers and families were at the forefront of any decisions.
Adult Services Director Sander Kristel, speaking at the same meeting, said sharing information about the proposals were part of a pre-consultation process. Engagement with families and users would be done with the support of independent groups including Worcestershire Association of Carers and Speakeasy. Recommendations that emerged would, if they resulted in changes or closures, then be subject to a legal consultation process.
Carole Cumino, chief executive of the Worcestershire Association of Carers, said the organisation had been making sure that carers have the opportunity to be involved in discussions with the council about the forthcoming reviews of all learning disability services.
“It is always very disappointing when carers and families are worried that they will be affected by changes to services. We will work with the council over the coming months to ensure the views of families are listened to. We are pleased that the council has promised to take its time to speak to all affected families before finalising the plans.”
If you would like to comment on the plans and you don’t know who your county councillor is, you can find out here
What happens next?
Engagement process to begin, with a report to Cabinet about the Budget process
The Learning Disability Services under review
Connect short term services are currently based in Redditch, Kidderminster and Bromsgrove with shared services in Worcester and Droitwich and in Evesham, Pershore and Malvern.
The service offers short term support for up to 12 weeks to adults with a disability, with an emphasis on early intervention and prevention, social integration and community independence.
Connect also provides a longer term service to promote opportunities.
Also under review are Resource Centres, including long established centres in Kidderminster and Bromsgrove, which support people with profound and multiple learning and physical disabilities, multiple disability and sensory/visual impairments, those with autism and epilepsy, behavioural needs and other complex needs.
Do you or a loved one use these services? Are you concerned about the impact? Contact me by ringing 0754 564 2583 or on Twitter @janerockhouse