Labour condemns Tory Council over service cuts for adults with learning difficulties

Herefordshire Labour Party condemn closure of facilities that provide ALL of the county's day opportunities for adults with learning disabilities.

Hereford & South Herefordshire Labour Party have condemned the closure of Brandon Trust’s facilities that currently provide ALL of Herefordshire’s Day Opportunities for adults with Learning Disabilities who have given notice as they are simply not getting paid enough to cover their costs.

Tory-run Herefordshire Council entered into a contract with the charity in 2014 “for the operation of all day opportunities for adults with a learning disability for a period of three years and with an option to extend for a further two years.”

Cllr. Powell, then Cabinet Member Health & Wellbeing, approved an agreement that granted “ Brandon Trust of a lease to occupy the existing buildings used for day opportunities for adults with a learning disability for the purposes of operating the service.”

At the time Brandon put in a tender it was an attractive proposition as the Council had some money making enterprises which would help subsidise the projects over the period.

The agreed tender included:

  • Widemarsh Children’s Centre’s Cafe Group and Gardening group.
  • St. Owen’s Hub, Symonds Street Hereford.
  • Marshfield’s with groups in 4 separate locations. Priory Centre. Eaton Barn. Leominster Reloved, Tip Top.
  • Ryefield Centre’s Centre Ross on Wye. Gardening group, Autumn Circle and the School House Cafe which has already closed down.

There were also two additional projects that made the proposition appealing for Brandon Trust – the “Woodwork Project” that was operating from Folly Trading estate and “Take a Pew” located next door to “Pack-it”, which is a separate enterprise for people with Learning Disabilities and is still operating today. There were the additional retail premises located in Maylord’s Orchard named “Made in Hereford”.

Brandon’s operations sabotaged

Although Brandon Trust had the keys to the woodwork shop at Folly Trading estate, they were surprised when they took over to discover that the place was virtually stripped of its smaller tools and equipment as well as its raw materials. Disable service users were redeployed to Widemarsh but most did not show up.

Two former employees of the Council, former project leaders at the “Woodwork Project” and “Take a Pew” had formed an alliance and had obtained premises on The Three Elms Trading Estate doing the same thing as they had just the week before as Council employees and in fact they had procured most of the Service User’s from those projects to purchase instead from them.

The Council, apparently, had offered these former employees, Peter Maybury and Gary Drabble, support and assistance in finding premises and details of service users for this new project who, in fact, were already on the list for Brandon Trust to inherit.

This was not the only surprise for Brandon Trust as they also found out that the shop in Maylord’s Orchard was no longer part of the Tender but had been taken over by Mr. Maybury and Mr. Drabble.

This immediately impacted heavily on Brandon Trust’s ability to subsidise the services as they had lost some estimated £50.000 p.a. income and had no retail outlet in Hereford.

Photo credit: Stewart Black Wye Bridge, Hereford via photopin (license)

Decks stacked against Brandon

Over the past 2 ½ years there has been the ongoing battle because reviews of service user’s needs and grants resulted in cuts in funding or the wrong rates getting paid or entitlements being reduced so it would appear they were getting better and needed less support.

Brandon Trust have worked against what has appeared to be a stacked deck since September 2014 and whilst they invested heavily in Herefordshire Day Opportunities it simply cannot be sustained any longer.

It would appear that the Council were less than transparent with the tender process and even more so with Brandon Trust throughout the transition period in 2014.

After much to-ing and fro-ing with the Council since 2014 with little success, Brandon Trust attempted to negotiate with them from July of 2016 but, with no progress made, gave notice in December 2016 of their intention to quit in May of 2017.

In January 2017 the Council seemed to have had a change of heart and requested a meeting with the Trust and asked for new costings from them. These were supplied but the Council summoned Locality Manager Robert McAfee to a meeting and rejected the proposal forcing Brandon Trust to reaffirm their intention to quit on 15th May 2017.

The Council requested that Brandon Trust not inform anyone other than their staff at this point and undertook to draft letters for Service User’s, their families, Carer’s and Brandon employees. This was supposed to have happened on the week beginning 30th January 2017 but was postponed because at that point the Council had not decided who the point of contact at the Council should be for people to make enquiries to.

Letters were subsequently sent home with Service User’s on Friday 3rd February 2017 although dated 6th February 2017 which may suggest that a delay until Monday 6th February 2017 had been agreed but not communicated to those who were charged with the duty/responsibility of distributing them.

Most likely outcome

Brandon Trust will pull out on 15th May 2017 and all Day Opportunities will return to Herefordshire Council by default and the Council will resume the management in the short term. However, having outsourced the tender in the first place, they no longer have the necessary structure in place to run in-house services. So, this would most probably result in either another outsourcing if any provider would take the risk of taking it on, or perhaps looking at clever ways to outsource the Service User’s via measures such as PIPs so that the users can purchase services directly from providers – if there are any left.

It is also rumoured at the moment that Aspire Hub on Canal Road will also be ceasing to provide that service due to a lack of funding.

In addition to this, relating to avenues of the Health and Social Care provision for Herefordshire, the Council have put on their own website that they will be pulling the plug on Cross Roads Care and Herefordshire Support to the tune of a massive £193.000.

Current Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Councillor Morgan, was asked to comment but has failed to respond.

Carers, parents and users speak out

Carer “June”: “It is exactly as we would have predicted it to be but not just yet. We are always used too anything the Council do turning into a shambles but thought Brandon might have been decent but they obviously aren’t as the Manager responsible for Hereford has gotten himself another job and deserted a sinking ship.”

Carer “Helen”: “We will obviously have to go through a very emotional process again like last time which is great because everyone in the industry knows that people with LD, Autism, MH issues need predictability, stability and routine. So glad that these are the Council’s main priorities.”

Parent Jack: “I have just got my child settled here and now I find out that Brandon took them on even after handing notice too quit. Well that tells me that Brandon care more about income than my child. They could have at have had the decency too tell that there were possible changes ahead and let me decide for myself.”

Parent Angela: “I brought my child here and felt it was working well but then this letter dated the 6th Feb handed out on the 3rd obviously in error demonstrates that they were trying to delay as much as possible. A friend of mine at the Council said the service’s at Widemarsh was closing down.”

Service User “Jim”: “Oh God, we are going through the same thing as last time (2014) and it made me very ill.”

Service User “Miriam”: “I am very anxious because last time they told me nothing would change just the big people at the top but they took 2 days support from me. (5-3 day’s a week).”

Service User “Colin”: “I hate it they keep doing this to me as I get even less than I used too.”

Service User “Danny”: “I just want to stay here as I know it here and everybody but I don’t think they will let me.”

Service User “Ben”: “Different day same crap. You get used too getting F##ked around when you have LD and MH problems because they can. Who are you going to tell?”

Service User “Mary”: “I don’t live with anyone and only see family occasionally so have no one to help me. I don’t even have an Advocate anymore because the Council told me I didn’t need one as I was smart and able.”

(Names have been changed to protect identities)

Featured Image: Hereford Town Hall. Photo by Ozzy Delaney, via FlickrCreative Commons Licence.