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Proposed adult service cuts criticised

Wednesday, 14 June 2023 08:56

By Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter @OliHepy

County Hall, Exeter (Image: LDRS)

One user asks council to 'save our lives'

Emotional appeals have been made to stop potential cuts to adult services by Devon County Council.

The local authority has consulted on plans to withdraw a number of services across adult social care, including stopping £1.5 million being spent on preventing homelessness and closing its North Devon mental health and wellbeing service.

It could also close a respite service for people with learning difficulties in East Devon, seven learning disability and older persons day services, and stop its funding contribution towards a scheme called Wellbeing Exeter.

The council says no decisions have yet been taken but it needs to “prioritise spending on our statutory responsibilities” as part of savings of around £45 million.

Final proposals are expected to come before Devon’s ruling cabinet for a decision in mid-July, but the council’s health and adult care scrutiny committee has agreed to hold a special meeting before then to look at the plans.

It comes after hundreds of consultation respondents criticised the potential cuts. On Tuesday [13 June] the committee heard from several public speakers – including heads of local homeless charities – urging councillors to think again.

Peter Stephenson, head of St Petrock’s, a charity in Exeter, said: “Instead of enabling people to live in a place they call home, ending this funding will render some of the most vulnerable and traumatised people in our county homeless, without any real hope they will ever be able to access shelter, let alone a home.

“The numbers of vulnerable adults sleeping rough will rocket, making the government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by next year completely unattainable.”

Mr Stephenson described the consultation as “half-baked at best, with almost no effort to make the public aware it was even taking place … Despite this, the people of Devon have spoken. They recognise the dangerous injustice of this proposal and the 990 responses were almost entirely opposed [to the council’s proposals].”

He called on the committee to ask Devon’s ruling cabinet to scrap the proposed homeless budget cut “for the sake of basic humanity and democratic accountability.”

Si Johns, joint CEO of YMCA Exeter, also criticised the consultation process. He said the council had posted more times on social media about a cycle path consultation and claimed that both service users and homeless people weren’t properly consulted.

He added the scrutiny committee was being “bypassed” with no firm proposals on the table before they’re due to be decided by Devon’s ruling cabinet in mid-July.

“Aren’t you meant to see what is being recommended and scrutinise it?” he asked. “Maybe tweak a proposal or two before it goes on. Aren’t you meant to scrutinise the recommendations on health and adult care, as the health and adult care scrutiny committee?”

Meanwhile, on the future of the North Devon mental health centres, which provide day services and drop-in sessions, one public speaker warned their closure would lead to a “large increase in mental health related emergencies,” as well as “self-harm and suicides.”

And, in a tearful address to the committee, a user of the service said they had been made to feel like “second-class citizens,” adding: “This should be about lives, not money.”

“We have the right to preventative care,” they said. “The link centre often prevents escalations to a mental health crisis.

“Please treat us with respect and dignity. We are not stupid. We are intelligent people. This is going to detrimentally affect service users and our families.

“So, please don’t close our support network. Save the links. Save our lives.”

Several members of the committee then criticised the potential impact of the cuts, and why it had no formal proposals to scrutinise. Councillors subsequently voted for a special meeting once plans had been drawn up, so it could look at them before July’s cabinet meeting.

In a statement, Councillor James McInnes (Conservative, Hatherleigh & Chagford), cabinet member for adult social care, said: “I would personally like to thank everyone who has responded to our consultations. No decisions have been made and won’t be until we have fully analysed all the feedback.

“These are challenging times, and I do not for one moment underestimate the impact of these proposals.

“I said at the very start of these consultations that these are the difficult decisions a council has to make. We have a duty to deliver the best value out of every pound we spend; to make sure services are as effective as possible; and that they are services people want to use.  Never has that been more important than now, amid rising costs and increasing demand for our adult social care services.

“And having put forward these proposals, it is only right now that we take this time to fully consider all the responses we’ve received before reaching our decisions at our cabinet meeting in July.”

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