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West Berkshire Council disabled children cuts "unlawful", High Court rules

Councillors "misdirected" over decision to slash short-break funding

Chris Ord

Reporter:

Chris Ord

Email:

chris.ord@newburynews.co.uk

West Berkshire Council logo

THE families of two severely disabled children have been successful in a judicial review into West Berkshire Council's decision to slash short-break funding which would have left their children socially isolated.

Today a High Court judge ruled that the council’s decision to cut the budget on March 1 was unlawful because members were essentially "misdirected" about their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

The families of a 14-year-old boy and eight-year-old girl from Newbury took on West Berkshire Council over the cuts, which will see the budget for short breaks services provided by voluntary sector organisations slashed by almost 50 per cent.

The decision was made at a meeting of West Berkshire Council on March 1 this year and reaffirmed at another council meeting on May 31.

The High Court declared today (Friday, July 22) that West Berkshire Council did not properly consider its legal duties before deciding to make the cuts, and that the subsequent decision was merely to “rubber stamp” the first decision without being able to cure the original flaws.

The hearing took place on June 22 and 23 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London with the judge siding with the families, forcing the council to rethink its plans.

The court heard the council was in "an exceptionally difficult financial position" when it decided to cut its short breaks budget by up to £215,000 in March.

However, the presiding judge, Mrs Justice Laing, said the decision was also unlawful because members did not consider other relevant statutory duties before they decided to proceed with the cuts.

She said there was “no trace” of consideration by members of West Berkshire Council of any of these other legal duties, which are “mandatory relevant considerations”.

Mrs Justice Laing also ruled that the second decision the council took on May 31 to “re-affirm” the March 1 decision was legally flawed because “the way in which the issue was presented to members on May 31 gave a clear impression that they were expected to apply a rubber stamp to the decision of March 1, 2016, and a clear impression that they could not decide to rescind it”. 

Both decisions have therefore today been quashed, which means that West Berkshire Council will have to take a new decision about funding for these services, and one that complies with all its legal duties.

Responding to the ruling West Berkshire Council’s executive member for Children’s Services, Lynne Doherty, said the decision to cut the funding was made after "prolonged and painful" consideration and that the council were committed to supporting vulnerable families with the resources available.

"This hearing wasn’t about the decision itself but about how the decision was made. In the coming days we will consider the implications of this and our next steps," she added.

“We will continue to meet our statutory duty to provide short break funding in the ways that the families we support prefer.

"It’s also our aim to provide discretionary short break funding to families. This provision remains important to us – as does all the support we provide to our most vulnerable residents."

For the latest on this story pick up a copy of next week's Newbury Weekly News.

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Article comments

  • NewburyResident

    22/07/2016 - 18:06

    Will Nick Carter , leader of these incompetents, finally take some responsibility for WBC's many mistakes. Probably not, he will continue to mislead the public rather than doing the honourable thing and resign.

    Reply

  • PhilW

    22/07/2016 - 13:01

    Will it make any difference? WBC could simply assess the decision in the correct manner and reaffirm it with another vote. Or they could decide to cut some other service. What they can't do is print more money.

    Reply

    • sayitasitis

      22/07/2016 - 14:02

      But they could stop wasting it on dodgy deals in the first place

      Reply

  • Ihavenonickname

    22/07/2016 - 12:12

    A fantastic victory for these two families with wider implications for the whole council to consider. They are not above the law and must carefully consider the damage their cuts inflict upon all of the people they serve. The Equalities Act is a wonderful piece of legislation and to alter it can only bring about greater inequality in an already divided society.

    Reply

  • Louise

    Louise

    22/07/2016 - 12:12

    So they have won their case meaning others will have to feel the pain, as other budgets cut further to compensate. Personally I don't see why WBC taxpayers should have to fund such activities in current climate; the dreaded Equalities Act needs reviewing.

    Reply

    • sayitasitis

      22/07/2016 - 14:02

      What a disgusting attitude you have Louise, try living with children with disabilities and see what difference this makes to the various families who will benefit. People aren't born with the choice of whether they are disabled or not. If the council spent the money correctly in the first place and didn't waste on it dodgy deals (which we read about regularly) then we wouldn't be in this situation. I don't doubt the equalities act could do with fine tuning but why should families who genuinely need the help be discriminated against. Lets just hope you're never in the situation where you need help eh?

      Reply

      • grumpy

        22/07/2016 - 14:02

        I think Louise is right

        Reply

        • sayitasitis

          22/07/2016 - 15:03

          Well as I said to Louise, lets hope you're never in that situation as well then

          Reply

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