Gloucestershire County Council has proposed shutting Dursley Training Unit that supports 21 adults with severe learning difficulties and physical disabilities - all in order to save £73,000. Those using the centre and their relatives are challenging this decision.
Photo: from cuts march in Stroud - see my video here.
I have heard from Chris Pockett, whose brother Gary, 44, has learning disabilities and has attended five days a week since it opened 20 years ago. Chris is part of the campaign to try and reverse the County's decision. See press reports from Citizen here or see Gazette here.
Well I have, in the past, managed day care services for adults with learning difficulties and have a fair few years of experience in this area. I have to start by noting that I am very concerned at the impact that such cuts will have on people.
The alternatives being offered by the County are ‘personal budgets’ to buy services of the ‘service users’ choice, enabling them to be more independent and live at home for as long as possible, avoiding the need for residential care. Well I welcome moves towards individual budgets and the potential choice offered by that, however, I am more than concerned in how it is being implemented.
The potential sudden closure of the Dursley service has considerable consequences. The centre caters for adults with severe learning difficulties, many of whom have developed relationships with others at the centre. There is also very little in the way of any other provision of services at all in that area. By all accounts Cllr Tony Hicks, for GCC, made some insensitive remarks on last week’s BBC Points West interview saying: “As a result of the expressed preferences, the expressed concerns that are made by the users, we can actually satisfy them and reassure them that actually their life’s going to be better, healthier, and probably more fulfilling”
How on earth can he say that? Are the alternatives real? It seems they haven't even been developed? Will they allow people to maintain friendships and relationships they made at the centre - and still provide the appropriate levels of support to service users and their carers? I am not at all satisfied that this is the case. I am certainly not opposed to changes but this has not been handled well at all. Change for vulnerable people needs very careful handling and reassurances that the changes can lead to improvements. There are very real and growing concerns amongst many that how personal budgets are being implemented means that they wont, in all cases, be able to provide the support needed.
As regular blog readers will know I am in the process of helping form Gloucestershire Voices. We have not set up properly yet, but hope to have a worker in place by March - this will be a voice for people with learning difficulties: self and peer advocacy - see more on my blog here. I am sure such issues as this, will be discussed in future.
A petition has only just been launched properly in the last couple of weeks and has already well over 2,000 signatures and rising - this is incredible for such a small constituency and an indication of the growing concerns about the loss of our local services.