'Difficult' cuts could hit vulnerable

PUBLISHED: 07:00 21 October 2011

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VULNERABLE people across the district could be put at risk by cuts being discussed by North Somerset Council, it has been claimed.

"“It is now the responsibility of all of us to deal with the situation and lead the council and community through this difficult period.”"

Council leader Nigel Ashton

With the authority looking to make unprecedented levels of savings over the next four years, the council is discussing a wealth of options to make savings of more than £47million.

These include pruning the budget of the adult social services directorate by a quarter, and the prospect of some of the authority’s services for children and young people being run by charities and other organisations in the future.

Speaking of the tough decisions which lie ahead for the authority, council leader Nigel Ashton said: “We will not be able to maintain all services at their current levels but we will strive to minimise the adverse impact on our areas and communities.

“None of us were elected, or employed, to make such cuts in council services. Unfortunately, largely as a result of the actions of others, we are where we are, and it is now the responsibility of all of us to deal with the situation and lead the council and community through this difficult period.”

But responding to the proposals, which are currently out for consultation, Unison’s North Somerset spokesman Helen Thornton said: “The residents of North Somerset should be very worried by proposals put forward by the council which will see massive cuts to services to the elderly, people with disabilities, children and young people.”

* The council’s adult social services and housing department, which deals with the most vulnerable adults in North Somerset, is facing cuts of £14million over the next four years.

Cllr Ashton says council services will operate ‘very differently’ in future, with difficult decisions ahead on services for elderly and disabled people, and those dealing with domestic abuse, antisocial behaviour and problems with drugs and alcohol.

A total of 32 staff members from across the department will lose their jobs over the next four years if the proposals, which are currently out for consultation, are approved.

While the council has already delivered savings of £1,317,000, the changes would see cuts of £1million made to care for people with learning difficulties, £1million from care for the elderly and disabled and £1.2million from care home provision. Proposals include more co-operation with privately-run care homes and the NHS, reducing long-term care home provision and a variety of changes to the running of the department.

Unison’s Helen Thornton said: “The proposals include a £4million cut which the council proposes to make as it attempts to help more elderly and disabled people to live independently so it can save more money on care home placements.

“If anyone thinks that it is possible to cut such large amounts of money without it impacting on services then they are not living in the real world.

“The welfare state which was created to provide support and protection to our most vulnerable citizens and look after every one of us from cradle to grave will have been dismantled by 2015, if not sooner.”

* Widespread changes to the department charged with looking after young people in North Somerset could see some of the district’s children’s centres move into hands of other organisations.

The integrated service branch of the children and young person’s services directorate is currently consulting on a report suggesting widespread changes to the way services are run. About £13.7million could be pruned from budgets over the next four years.

Although none of the 14 children’s centres across the district would be closed if the council approves the recommendations, the report does call for a review of whether they should be run by the authority in future.

It suggests they may be more efficiently run through a social enterprise, such as the For All Healthy Living Centre on the Bournville estate in Weston, or by voluntary bodies such as Barnardo’s or Action for Children.

The 199 jobs across integrated services would be reduced to 133, with staff such as family support workers, education welfare officers and youth support workers having to re-apply for their jobs.

Some of those job losses would be offset by voluntary redundancies and reduction of posts to part-time roles.

Among the other changes proposed is the setting up of community family teams who would work from ‘hubs’ such as Milton and Old Worle Children’s Centre or The Campus in Locking Castle alongside volunteers, schools and the police to offer services to children and families.

A quarter of the budget, £7million, is spent on placements for ‘looked-after’ children and short breaks for youngsters with disabilities. Methods of reducing this cost will be considered.

Richard Tucker, an opposition councillor on the authority, said: “It is good that all the centres would be safe under these proposals, but the prospect of privatising them in a year means that their future is perhaps not so certain.

“When they are council-run they are effectively underwritten and have that degree of security, but they might not have that if they are under the running of other organisations.”

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