Union calls meeting over day centre future

CARE bosses at County Hall have been accused of putting finances above the needs of disabled people, following plans to privatise day services.

Public sector workers union Unison has called a meeting today, where representatives from five day centres – including the Pottergate Centre in Alnwick – will be encouraged to say no to the proposals.

Members of Northumberland County Council’s care and wellbeing committee last week agreed to support recommendations to operate the centres ‘in a more commercial way’, which will involving handing over their running to a social enterprise company.

They say the move will provide a framework for further development of existing services, as well as helping service users to move towards employment.

But the council’s corporate director of adult services, Daljit Lally, has admitted that the authority needed to look at ‘efficiencies’ year on year, warning that if the current framework remained it would eventually mean centres having to be amalgamated to produce a smaller service.

The Pottergate Centre has around 50 regular users, aged between 20 and 65, who take part in a variety of projects and educational activities including running a small commercial kitchen.

But care worker John Balmbra, who is also Unison’s north convenor, says all that could be thrown into doubt if the move goes ahead.

“We are concerned about what happens to us when the county council pulls the plug on funding,” he said. “If the social enterprise goes bust, there are no guarantees that any of the centres would stay open or continue to offer what has been an excellent service.

“There are no assurances that it won’t cost clients anything more and there are no guarantees for our hard-working and dedicated staff that terms and conditions will not be cut by what is basically a private company.

“The loss of accountability is also a serious concern – if there is a problem, at present you can go directly to your local councillor. Under a social enterprise, you will be dealing with a private company.”

Mr Balmbra added: “Any changes to day services will upset clients and their carers because stability and a sound routine is important to many of them.

“The whole exercise is money-orientated, but we say the learning disabilities service in Northumberland should be kept public, not private.”

A report will go to the council’s Executive on September 6 and if it is agreed, an engagement process with staff and service users and their families will begin.