Residents fighting plans to close a vital short breaks unit for disabled children in Kidderminster today made an impassioned plea to county chiefs to drop the proposals.
Parents warned that “reluctantly” legal action could follow if the council fails to “do the right thing” over plans to close the six-bed respite care unit in Ludlow Road.
Tracey Rochelle, speaking for the parents of children who use Ludlow Road, voiced the “unbelievable frustration” of parents at the way the consultation over the plans has been conducted.
She was speaking at today’s meeting of Worcestershire County Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Performance Board, held at County Hall.
The board voted unanimously to back a scrutiny report which condemned the conduct of the consultation process.
The scrutiny task group, led by Councillor Fran Oborski, made a series of recommendations, including a call for the final decision to be made in public. A decision is due in June.
Tracey Rochelle, whose best friend Tina Southall’s daughter is a regular visitor to Ludlow Road, spoke for the parents at the start of the meeting.
She said: “The parents would like to say thank you to the scrutiny panel for their hard work. Yet we are still unbelievably frustrated with the lack of information…made available to them.
“I have been absolutely appalled at how this consultation has been carried out. All the (media) coverage is a direct result of a group of people that have not done their job properly.
“Who is responsible for this? In my opinion they have not done their job properly and they have failed us parents, the general public and all of the MPs and councillors in Worcestershire.
“After all, how can they make an informed approach without having the correct and accurate information?”
She added the families were in discussions with solicitors Irwin Mitchell, who recently won a high court ruling around a similar case.
“The last thing any of us want is to be in that situation (of taking legal action) but we feel we are being backed into a corner and enough is enough.
“It’s pretty apparent huge mistakes have been made and sometimes you just need to put your hands up and admit it, say I’m sorry, then put it right.
“We are asking the council and all political parties to work together and do the right thing.”
In the report, the consultation was described as “haphazard, confused and inconsistent.”
The report also expresses “sadness” that the process may have added to the distress of vulnerable families.
It calls for a major review of public consultations carried out by Worcestershire County Council amid condemnation that the consultation was poorly done and lacked transparency.
Councillor Chris Bloore, board chairman, said he was “alarmed” at the breakdown in communication between the council and NHS Worcestershire Health and Care Trust, which currently runs the unit.
“This is not a decision that has crept up on us – we have known about it for several years.
“Nowhere in this report is there anything that gives any confidence about what will happen to the families and their children when this process is over. Confidence is vital and so is transparency in decision making. I don’t feel we have given the respect…to the families involved and that saddens me deeply.”
“I would like to apologise on record about the decision to write to parents just before Christmas, that’s simply unforgiveable; to put such worry in minds of parents is not right.”
He also added: “Parents and families should expect transparency and clarity but we do not have it in this council. Councillor Andy Roberts (Conservative Cabinet Member who has to make the final decision) has been given a poisoned chalice and I do not blame him for this, this is not of his making.”
Speaking after the meeting, Tina Southall, whose daughter Dalcie is 15 tomorrow, said: “I feel more disheartened by the process now and by the way the political process works. It’s been shocking to see some councillors nit picking the scrutiny report instead of trying to work out what has gone wrong and addressing those problems.”
She added: “We are parents who are really worried and distressed, with huge responsibility for our children. This whole process has been awful and just keeps going on. It is really taking its toll on us.
“If we fall apart as a family the cost is so much more; respite at Ludlow Road is vital to our families and our lives. I am even more scared for the future now.”
Councillor Fran Oborski led the small group of councillors looking at the proposals, which were first drawn up by the ruling Conservative leadership and presented by Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Councillor Andy Roberts.
The plans, shared with affected families in the week before Christmas, included the closure of the six bed overnight unit.
The implication in the report was that the closure would save running costs in excess of £600,000.
The council, already struggling to balance its books and with cuts planned in the region of £32 million this year, may have to find alternative savings if the closure was stayed.
Stephen Brown, Wyre Forest Labour activist who has supported the campaign from the start, said he was appalled to see Conservative members of the scrutiny group picking tiny holes in the task group’s report in what appeared to be a bid to undermine it, and appearing to fail to recognise the impact the consultation had on families.
“The comments of Conservative members at today’s meeting caused additional and unnecessary stress on the parents, who just want fairness and transparency.”