Parents’ legal fight over council cuts
Challenge mounted over cutbacks to services for special needs children:
ACASH-STRAPPED council in the West Country faces a legal challenge from parents over cuts to services for children with special needs and disabilities.
The families want a judicial review into £28 million worth of savings announced by Somerset County Council, which they say are unlawful and have left them at “crisis point”.
They claim the authority failed to consult adequately with users over the cuts to youth groups, transport assistance and the Langport-based support organisation, GetSet.
The council has responded, saying it held consultation “where appropriate” and it followed its own policies and procedures.
The legal action comes following months of campaigning from families calling for protection for children’s special needs services, culminating in a petition signed by more than 850 people.
One of the parents launching the challenge is Gemma DrummondWalker, from Frome.
“I feel that we have been left with no other option,” she said. “We have been trying so hard for so long to get what we need and we are coming up against brick walls. Letters, phone calls are all being ignored. This is the last resort.”
She added: “I feel if we stand up, and there are other families which I’m hoping would join this… if we all stand together and say ‘enough is enough’ people will start listening.
“I hope that no other family in Somerset will be in the same predicament that ourselves and lots of families are in where we have to beg for support while we are at crisis point.”
Other parents with special needs children came out in support of the action yesterday.
Gemma Lorey, 33, from Bridgwater, says she was not properly consulted over cuts to the physical impairment and medical support team, which helped her son Max at Westonzoyland School.
She fears that without the service, which was cut in June, her son will be unable to return to mainstream school.
She said: “I think for any cuts to any services, especially for special needs children, there should be a public consultation – because it is those children and their families who are impacted most.”
Irwin Mitchell is acting on behalf of the parents for the legal action. A spokesman said: “When making big decisions such as this councils are obliged to consider the impact it could have on those who are likely to be affected.
“So in this instance, for example, they need to make sure that they properly consider the impact on disabled children and their families.
“They need to consult with service users, staff and other organisations involved in delivery of services to be cut. In our view, we don’t think that has happened.”
The county council’s cabinet unanimously approved the savings, which included cuts to other areas such as highways, at a meeting attended by protesters in September.
Around 80 jobs from the GetSet programme will be cut under the plan, which will save about £13m this financial year and £15m in 2019/20.
A consultation is to be held on further savings to be made from the programme.
A council spokesman said: “We can confirm that the county council has received correspondence regarding recent decisions taken by its cabinet committee.
“It would not be appropriate to comment on legal matters at this stage, but we will of course consider the issues raised and respond appropriately.
“This council has made a number of difficult decisions in recent months and this has involved considerable engagement, and consultation where appropriate. We have at all times followed our own policies and procedures and key decisions have been signed-off by our legal team and subjected to a democratic vote.
“We, of course, have enormous sympathy and understanding for all those who do not support these.”