Par­ents’ le­gal fight over coun­cil cuts

Chal­lenge mounted over cut­backs to ser­vices for spe­cial needs chil­dren:

Western Daily Press - - Front Page - ALEX ROSS [email protected]­plc.com

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.”

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