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Council votes to slash funding for short breaks for disabled children again

Families react with anger branding decision "shocking"

Chris Ord

Reporter:

Chris Ord

West Berkshire Council logo

WEST Berkshire councillors have once again voted to slash funding to short breaks for disabled children.

The controversial decision, voted through by Conservative councillors at a meeting last, was taken just weeks after a High Court judge ruled the council's previous decision to cut funding was 'unlawful'.

The move will see funding provided to local voluntary organisations for short breaks reduced from £386,575 to £163,432. 

The decision prompted angry reactions from families affected by the cuts who called the move "short sighted".

"It's a shocking decision," said the mother of one child, a regular user of the short breaks service.

"I think the information they based it on was incorrect.

"They gave an idea that the service they are providing is good, but it's not going to be suitable for a lot children, they didn't make that clear.

"I don't think they've got a clue what the realities are."

West Berkshire Council initially made the decision to reduce funding to the service as part of the swingeing cuts to public services in March as the council attempted to make a total of £17.5million worth of savings.

The short break funding cuts were then ratified by council members at a meeting in May.

However in July a High Court judge quashed both decision following a legal challenge by two Newbury families with disabled children.

In the Judicial Review ruling Mrs Justice Laing said the council did not properly consider its legal duties, and the decision was flawed because councillors were “essentially misdirected” about the council's legal obligations, meaning the local authority had to consider the issue afresh.

During last night's meeting, which at one point was plunged into darkness through a power cut resulting from the raging storm outside, the council's executive portfolio for Children and Young People Lynne Doherty (Con, Northcroft) told members that the local authority's provisions compared favourably with other parts of the country, listing a range of services which would still be accessible to families.

Pointing to the financial constraints West Berkshire Council has had to operate under she said: "It's our role to decide if it is proportionate and justifiable in light of other savings being made [to make the cuts]."

She added: "We are not stopping, we are reducing the funding stream of some of those providers.

"When you look around there some really good community groups coming out."

Responding to suggestions the council use its financial reserves to boost funding to the service executive portfolio holder for Finance and Transformation, Anthony Chadley (Con, Birch Copse) explained that reserve levels were close to the minimum and any further reduction may leave the cash-strapped council unable to respond to any urgent financial demand.

Councillors voted in favour of the cuts with just the three Liberal Democrat councillors present, Alan Macro, Lee Dillon and Mollie Lock, voting against.

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