Shake-up of Slough care services branded 'attack on the vulnerable’

James Bagley, Local Democracy Reporter

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Slough Borough Council's offices

A proposed shake-up to Slough care centres have been slammed by the opposition and campaigners as an ‘attack on the vulnerable’.

The Labour-run council is eyeing up the closure of five-day centres operated by the local authority to opt for services or activities run by other providers, including community groups, charities, or private operators.

Following a public consultation, which ran from July 5 to August 6, Lavender Court, Respond (short-term breaks service), Priors Day Service, Phoenix Day Service and The Pines Day Service could close.

According to the council, these closures will affect 107 users who have a learning disability and/or autism.

It will also affect 61 staff who will be made redundant – but the workforce could be redeployed to other areas in social care.

Officers from the adult social care department say each person will be re-assessed to identify their needs and will be supported to build a support plan to find a ‘personalised solution’ for them.

Their philosophy was that it’s not about if the services are operated by the council, it’s more about the outcome for residents.

However, the evidence used to advocate the closures was called into question by Cllr Paul Kelly (Con, Haymill & Lynch Hill), saying there wasn’t ‘enough meat on the bone’ and the plan was based on ‘best guesses’.

Speaking at the first people scrutiny panel on Monday this week, Cllr Kelly said: “We don’t know, and I would rather be in a position that we do know what we can provide and assure them [the users] on what we can provide before we start closing the services down.

“Especially that we’re sitting in a £60million building and we’re attacking the most vulnerable people in our society.”

But Cllr Natasa Pantelic (Lab, Cippenham Meadows), cabinet member for social care and public health, ‘did not accept’ Cllr Kelly’s comments as ‘co-producing and co-designing’ services to tailor each individual’s needs will provide better outcomes now and for the longer-term.

She said: “The fundamental point is, we will meet those needs because that is our responsibility, but it doesn’t have to be provided by the council. There are other service providers that can support residents out in the community.”

Meanwhile, officers say they were ‘confident’ that they took everyone’s views into consideration, and this is the option to provide the best outcome for residents, citing that other councils across the country have adopted this approach.

More than 800 residents signed an e-petition urging the council to abandon these closure plans, saying the services are ‘vital’ for people with learning disabilities and autism.

The petitioner, Krzysztof Dudzinski, whose daughter has a severe learning disability and uses the services, said closing the centres will be ‘impossible to replace by alternative solutions at the same quality level’.

He explained the centres provide a hub for carers to take a break while people with the same learning disabilities socialise with a range of activities in a safe and friendly environment, as well as personalised care support.

Mr Dudzinski said they have suffered from ‘poor communication’ like they did with a previous proposal to close two-day centres. Officers denied this claim and said they sent the consultation to everyone that was on the register.

During the consultation process, 55 people responded to the online surveys, 18 people attended focus groups, two people used mail, and one person telephoned.

A final decision will be made by senior councillors at a cabinet meeting on Monday. 

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