The Tory south cuts

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Updated 12 August 2011

Spent last week talking to people in Tory stronghold Dorset, where cuts are beginning to take shape. So much for early claims that Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth fared well in December’s local government settlements.

Bournemouth daycentres for people with learning disabilities are in the council’s sights: at a late July meeting, the cabinet agreed to shut the Darracott Day Centre in Pokesdown and the Malvern Day Centre in Moordown by the end of this year.

The council describes its plans as “modernising day services in line with the government’s transformation agenda for social care, including giving more choice and control to service users through the allocation of personal budgets.” Not all service users are in love with the modernising idea: they and their representatives turned up to the July cabinet meeting in the hope of a last-minute reprieve for their daycentres. Staff will be made redundant as well.

Down the road in Dorset, staff and service users are standing by for a Dorset county council consultation exercise which will consider three options for day services for the elderly and people with disabilities – cuts, privatisation, or the creation of an income-focused, arms-length local authority trading company.

Contacts I spoke to last week say staff and service users doubt the council’s intentions are pure. The council introduced charging for some daycentre users in July, which people expect to affect attendance rates, which could in turn be used as a justification for reducing the service. If fewer people attend daycentres because of the cost, the council could argue daycentres for the elderly are no longer popular and cut them – a shortsighted option, given that Dorset has the highest proportion of people over retirement age in the country. Daycentres for the elderly are needed more than ever and at the time of writing, the council acknowledged this openly on its website: “we cannot guarantee (daycentre) attendance because we have many requests for day care and have to give priority to those most in need. We allocate day care places by balancing the needs of people and the resources available.”

People I spoke to want to see the service developed, not mothballed.

The council has agreed a budget cut of £31m. Earlier this year, the council asked unions if they’d agree a five percent pay cut for staff to meet that budget – 12 days of unpaid leave a year.

The council is also cutting funding to The Waves, a child protection charity for children who have problems with bullying and family relationships. Roy Koerner, who manages the programme, told the BBC that: “what we have found is there’s an increased demand for the mediation service and we are not coping with all the families we should. “Demand has gone up for all sorts of reasons but increased financial hardship increases conflict in the family – in some cases children might feel they want to run away.” This is – just to note – the sort of youth support service we lefties are talking about when we rattle on community projects which might help keep young people out of trouble.

More to come on this and the fallout for Dorset’s most vulnerable service users. These councils have been cautious in rolling out cuts plans and consultation exercises, especially compared with some London and northern councils. It’ll be interesting to see who these largely Tory councils target.

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