Thursday 21 March 2013
Glasgow City Council will – today – almost certainly decide to close three of the seven day centres currently used by 520 people with learning needs.
More than 300 angry people who consider the centres vital to the well-being of their families, agreed tactics to persuade the city’s Executive to reverse the expected closures of Berryknowes in Cardonald, and Summerston and Hinshaw Street in Maryhill. Some of them will be at the City Chambers to make their voices heard.
The mass meeting on Sunday elected representatives to continue pressure on the Council. An 11 point action plan was also agreed unanimously.
Dr Christopher Mason, Glasgow’s official Carers’ Champion elected by the Council, admitted his report hadn’t made much impression on the Council decision makers. He had proposed a review of the services for people with learning needs before any decision on closures. ‘There is not enough money to run seven centres. Therefore they need to shut three. But we have to ask the question: ‘After the centres are closed, will the 320 people who attend them, suddenly have got better ?’ The answer, of course, is no.’
SNP Councillor Susan Aitken for Langside Ward said that ‘constructive suggestion, after constructive suggestion’ had been ‘blocked and shouted down’ by the Labour group. ‘They have lost the moral argument and their language has become offensive. It is disgraceful. This decision (to close the centres) was made a long time ago and the administration don’t want to listen. The Labour group are in power and they’ve made it clear they’ll use that power. But their decision on Thursday has no legitimacy. Not one single Labour Councillor is present at this meeting to listen.’
Bob Doris SNP MSP who has presented two motions against the closure of the centres in the Scottish Parliament told the meeting: ‘It is unacceptable that a Glasgow Labour Council is closing these day centres. They are lying when they say they have to do this. They can’t use legislation as an excuse. Other local authorities are doing things better and when the SNP administration in Dundee got it wrong, they had the humility to admit it and start again. Glasgow’s approach is a shambles and an affront. Neither services users nor carers have been asked what they want and that is not acceptable.’
Karin Mc Sherry, a 50-year-old user of one of the centres said: ‘I love my centre. It’s where I see my friends and use the computers.’ Her sister Eileen explained how much the centre meant to her sister. She said: ‘When Karin was five, we were told she’d never learn to read or write. But our mother fought that. The centre has given her a life far beyond what had been mapped out for her. She has friends, goes to college, done drama and computing. The Labour administration does not represent constituents like us. It represents the Labour Party.’
Brian Smith, Secretary of Glasgow branch of UNISON union which helped organise the meeting in the Radisson Blu hotel, said: ‘We are shoulder to shoulder with you in opposing any closures.’
A similar message came from Ian Hood, co-ordinator of the Learning Disability Alliance for Scotland. He gave detailed figures of how spending on learning disabilities in Glasgow was much smaller proportionately than the budget for older people and even less than the rate of inflation. ‘We’re in this for the long haul,’ he said. ‘Glasgow’s action is discriminatory against people with learning disabilities.’
Glasgow City SNP Councillor, Billy McAllister, speaking from the floor of the meeting, said: ‘The people of this city need to waken up. They are being treated with total contempt.’ He recommended that families concerned in the day centre closures should make Councillors’ lives ‘misery.’ He said: ‘Go along to their surgeries. There’s usually no-one there. Talk to them for three or four hours and tell them they were voted in to represent their constituents – not their political party.’
One carer outlined the time when social workers who’d rarely visited her, arrived in force and stayed for three hours. ‘We were exhausted,’ said the carer. ‘But we are still fighting and we won’t go away quietly. We have rights and we can make demands.’
Chairman Tommy Gorman said a carer who was called ‘obstructive’ by social works’ people was actually being ‘protective’ of their family. Later he said: ‘In the short term we’re not going to change the minds of the Councillors but we can vote them out next time round.’
Councillor Matt Kerr, Executive Member for Social Care on Glasgow City Council later said: ‘The way social care is to be delivered will be completely changed by the Scottish Government’s self-directed support legislation and we have to manage that change.
“We believe that a Public Social Partnership offers the best possible way ahead as providers, service users and carers will all be involved in the design of future services.
‘We have also written to the Scottish Government asking for transitional funding to support the Public Social Partnership and to assist with the modernisation of our learning disability day services.
‘The reform of services would be phased in over a 12 month period and no-one will leave their day centre until they have a personal care plan that details exactly how they will be supported in future.’
A promise by First Minister Alex Salmond has given hope to 50 East End families that the £18 million Tollcross Aquatic Centre can provide a replacement for their doomed day care Centre.
The Accord Centre in Dalmarnock will be demolished to make way for a coach park for the Commonwealth Games. In preparation for that, more than 100 people with conditions such as cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome and complex learning needs have been dispersed to other centres in the city. But more than 50 families have rejected the proposed alternatives to the Accord believing they had been promised a ‘like for like’ facility.
A year ago, Alex Salmond visited the Accord Centre to see for himself what the situation was. Since then behind-the-scenes negotiations and discussions have been taking place with Glasgow City Council officials and elected members and the Scottish Government.
In a personal letter to one of the Accord Centre families, Alex Salmond said this week: ‘I am keen to follow through on the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensure that the legacy of the Commonwealth Games benefits the whole community of Glasgow. While recognising that you will be disappointed that Glasgow City Council has decided that those who use the Accord Centre are to transfer to the Bambury Centre, there is a real opportunity in the medium and long term to influence the shape of the new Aquatic Centre when it is adapted for community use following the Commonwealth Games in 2014. This brand new, modern, resource could be adapted to offer a similar facility to that which you saw when you visited the Harry Smith complex in South Lanarkshire.’
After that visit to South Lanarkshire one of the carers told this website: ‘I wept when I saw it. It was everything we could wish for. There was a swimming pool, gyms, film room, cafe, art room and facilities for people with special needs like our sons and daughters. But it was also open to the public in a way that was safe for the vulnerable users but integrated with the general public.’
Alex Salmond’s letter continued: ‘The longer term plans (at the Tollcross Aquatic Centre) include a range of opportunities for people with learning disabilities such as the development and use of a community hall and function rooms. There is also the possibility of first floor accommodation in the Spectator Gallery which would provide an opportunity for a range of activities. And Glasgow Life staff are investigating how to incorporate personal changing and support areas into existing plans at the build stage of the current development. I know from discussions with my officials, that colleagues within Glasgow City Council are keen to explore and develop this option with you and I would encourage you to do so.’
He concluded: ‘The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that the Games Legacy includes recognition of the needs of people with a learning disability. The longer term plans for the Aquatic Centre present an opportunity to make a positive, tangible impact on the lives of such people. I have, therefore, asked my officials, working in conjunction with Glasgow City Council to prepare a funding package to ensure that a modern facility is created within the Tollcross Aquatic Centre after the Commonwealth Games in 2014 have taken place.’
In November, a confidential report was produced by the Joint Improvement Team made up of representatives of the Scottish Government, NHS and Cosla. According to Glasgow City Council, the report ‘rules out the possibility of Tollcross Aquatics Centre being used as a learning disability centre prior to the Commonwealth Games. There is also a question mark about having a dedicated centre after the games. But it makes clear the desirability of people from the Accord/Bambury Centre using Tollcross as part of their everyday activities.’
Councillor Matt Kerr, Executive Member for Social Care in a statement issued this week said: ‘I welcome this report and the conclusion that the Bambury Centre is a suitable base for people with learning disabilities. That Centre offers a real opportunity to deliver a service that will encourage greater social inclusion for service users. Considerable effort has gone into producing the report and so its recommendations will be taken very seriously by the Council.’ He continued: ‘Since reforming our learning disability services, people are showing they relish having greater flexibility to follow their own interests and aspirations. Using the Bambury Centre allows us to strike a balance between people taking greater control over their lives and retaining a centre.’
The move of the remaining families from the Accord Centre to the nearby Bambury Centre is imminent.
The Bambury Centre in Barrowfield, was recently purchased by West of Scotland Housing Association and is being refurbished. Part of the building, with its own entrance, will be reserved for the former Accord users as a meeting place where they will go out from to different activities.
After the receipt of Alex Salmond’s letter one of the East Carers Group said: ‘ I am very, very pleased with the letter. This is what we’ve been campaigning for. We are not talking about access to Tollcross. We want a fully functional day care facility. The Bambury Centre is the epitome of Glasgow City Council’s approach. It is a shabby after-thought. Our families are not being treated with the dignity they deserve. I cannot understand why the Council is not welcoming Tollcross and incorporating the facilities we’re asking for. They are being dragged kicking and screaming to this. They have been given £150,000 of public money for a feasibility study into making Tollcross suit the needs of vulnerable people but they are not fully engaged with the idea. We want a fair replacement for the Accord Centre. The only people who don’t see this are Glasgow City Councillors.’
Grace Harrigan, an official spokesperson for the East Carers group said: ‘We welcome the commitment to provide modern day centre facilities in Tollcross. But we’d like it nailed down. This is not about access to Tollcross. By law, all new buildings should be accessible. Shame on Glasgow City Council if, after spending £18m on the Aquatic Centre at Tollcross, they have not included the needs of some of their most vulnerable citizens.’
In October at the Council meeting where the decision to close the Accord Centre was taken, Grace was one of three parents evicted from the public gallery for shouting at the Labour Councillors presenting the case for closure. Because of that, she believes she was targeted when she attended the February Budget meeting of the Council. Not only was she taken out of the public gallery by attendants but she was told she was banned for life from the City Chambers. On the day she told this website: ‘I was doing nothing but listening. Then the attendant came over and said I was disrupting the meeting, took me out of the building and told me I would never be allowed back in.’
This week, in response, a Council statement was received about the incident: ‘A member of the public was asked to leave the City Chambers after being warned by staff about their conduct during the budget debate. No-one has been banned from the City Chambers as a consequence of this incident.’
A long term supporter of the Accord campaigners, community activist, Iain McInnes told this website: ‘This letter from Mr Salmond is good news. We’ve waited a long time for this. However, this is not victory. It is positive input along the road. When we get a letter saying Tollcross will be available for day care, offering facilities which have been available in the Accord Centre, and more; then we will believe the campaign will have succeeded.’
In a lengthy statement from Glasgow City Council, some of the information given out at the Accord centre by users’ families to Alex Salmond, was disputed.
Following dicussions and consultations from October 2007, a sub group to examine how to reform Learning Disability Day Service provision was set-up in May 2008.
At that time, around 850 people with a learning disability were signed up for day support at 11 day centres across the city. Two areas were highlighted – building -based activity to help to encourage therapeutic interventioins for those who need and benefit from them. And encouragement of participation in community based activities and opportunities.
Among the reforms noted was: To provide a balanced service with less emphasis on specialist buildings and greater emphasis on community focused/ connected care.
By 2010 the 850 service users of 2008 had been reduced to 693 service users.
At least 90 events were held between October 2007 and April 2008 as part of the consultation process. And Service users and carers were ‘directly involved ‘ in a number of strategic workstreams.
The City Council’s Executive Committee agreed in October 2010 to implement Self Directed Support. This meant that every person registered with a learning disability and funded by GCC would complete a Self Evaluation Questionnaire and be responsible for deciding how to spend their funding allowance.
Photograph by Stuart Maxwell
Last month, more than 1300 asylum seekers were threatened with ‘removal’ at very short notice from their accommodation in Glasgow after the UKBA abruptly cancelled a contract with Glasgow City Council which had been providing the housing.
This week, Scotland Office Minister, David Mundell, attended a round table discussion in the City Chambers to hear, first-hand, the distress caused by the UK Borders Agency when it cancelled the housing contract.
He had been invited by Glasgow Central MP Anas Sarwar who said: ‘Hundreds of vulnerable people who came to Glasgow seeking refuge have been placed under enormous, unnecessary, stress as a result of a rushed decision to axe a contract to house and support them. It is vital that government ministers are aware of the huge impact this mishandled decision has had.
‘It’s clear now that the transfer of the contract from Glasgow City Council to Ypeople will not happen before the 2 February deadline. UKBA has accepted that. Now we need UKBA to come up with a realistic timetable for a transfer that will not involve any more upheaval for 1,311 people who have suffered enough. It’s also vital that this timetable is communicated effectively to all concerned.
I’m pleased that David Mundell has agreed to take these objectives back to immigration Minister Damian Green.’
Mr Mundell told the LOCAL NEWS: ‘These difficulties are no reflection on the quality of service Glasgow City Council has provided nor of the welcome that has been extended. That has been outstanding.’ He added that a Parliamentary enquiry would be held into how the situation arose and that he would report back the day’s discussions to Damian Green.
Glasgow City Councillor Matt Kerr, Executive Member for Social Care, said: ‘It was a constructive meeting. I’m pleased that UKBA acknowledged that the 2 February transfer deadline will not now be met. As a city council we’re obviously hugely disappointed that this contract has been terminated by UKBA despite the fact that we came back with a reduced offer when the initial offer was rejected as too costly. However, we have a duty of care to asylum seekers and we will continue to support them through this transition process, however long it takes.’
Simon Hodgson, director of policy and communications at the Scottish Refugee Council, said: ‘Over the last two months, hundreds of vulnerable people have been thrown into unnecessary distress and panic over the cancellation of the Glasgow City Council housing contract – so we welcomed the chance to sit down with the Under Secretary of State for Scotland and other elected representatives to find the best way forward. We welcome moves to provide clearer information on exactly when and how people will be affected by the housing contract transfer, which we will then be able to pass on to our clients.
‘We were also heartened to see the commitment shown today to Glasgow’s important role as a city of safety and refuge for people who’ve fled war and persecution.’
Added Ian Davidson, Glasgow South West MP: ‘We were able to explore the costs of this and need to find out how they will be met. It isn’t right that Glasgow Council tax payers should pick up the substantial bill.’
There are also at least 40 jobs of people who provide the vital support services to the asylum seekers. ‘These jobs cannot be terminated so fast,’ said Councillor Kerr. ‘There is a process and a legal time scale so there is no way a deadline of 2 February could have been met.’