`I support you but I'll have to vote to cut day care services…'
St Clement's Church in Ordsall was the venue for last Saturday's meeting to discuss Salford Council's potential cuts to day care services at Craig Hall in Irlam, St George's in Charlestown and Humphrey Booth in Ordsall.
Since the campaign to save the centres was kicked off the previous week with a large meeting in Swinton (see here), ruling Labour councillors have begun to support opposition to the closures.
Rev Sandra Kearney, chairing the meeting, read out a statement of support from Ordsall Councillor Peter Dobbs who said he opposed the withdrawal of funding from the centres and had e-mailed John Warmisham, the Lead Member for Adult Services who will make the final decision on the centres' future on February 20th.
However it is the Labour Group meeting on 13th February that decides policy for all the ruling Labour councillors in Salford, and Councillor Howard Balkind (Swinton South), the only councillor in attendance at Ordsall, said he would "voice an opinion" at the Group meeting that he "supports the principle that funding should remain"…
…Incredibly, in the next breath, Balkind added that "we are whipped". Which means that if the Labour Group meeting decides to go ahead with the cuts to day care services he would vote to withdraw funding from them.
As speaker Paul Kelly questioned Balkind's morality, the councillor stormed out of the meeting, only to return minutes later to hear another speaker, George Tapp, say that the closures were a question of "life and death" and "human rights".
Indeed the ex manager of Humphrey Booth said that since last October when the social members were stopped from using the centre, three of them had died.
She went on to question why so much money had been spent refurbishing Humphrey Booth - which she estimated to be up to £1million – only to shut the service down. The expensive work, she added, was carried out so that people who used the closed Broughton day care centre could come to Humphrey Booth in Ordsall… "Now they are going to put those people through it all again and move them somewhere else, I can't understand it."
As Councillor Balkind shuffled awkwardly in his seat, he heard Paul Gerrard from Salford Against the Cuts say that "John Merry promised he would help Salford's vulnerable people, now he's coming for them…"
The full extent of the cuts to day care centres in Salford come with two options…
Option 1 will see two day care centres closed - Craig Hall in Irlam and Humphrey Booth in Ordsall, with the loss of 40 jobs and 200 service users `removed by reassessment'.
Option 2 will see the closure of three day care centres - Craig Hall in Irlam and Humphrey Booth in Ordsall, plus St George's in Charlestown, with the loss of 60 jobs and 300 service users `removed by reassessment'.
A speaker called Walter explained from personal experienced just how these `reassessments' work as he spoke of a lady in her nineties who had been going to the Brierley House centre in Little Hulton for years for a bath… "She can't go any more because she was `re-assessed' and she can walk to the kitchen to make a sandwich…"
It is against this backdrop that Labour councillors have to decide whether they have a spine to vote against the forthcoming budget which will see these potential cuts, or whether their morals speak louder than political whips.
Over the next few weeks, the Defend Our Day Care Centres campaign will be helping to persuade them to listen to their hearts rather than their political careers. And Councillor John Warmisham in particular will be taagetted as it is he who can make the final decision to scrap the cuts to services for Salford's most vulnerable people.
The Ordsall protest decided at this meeting was to have an Ordsall Day of Action on 9th February 5pm starting outside Humphrey Booth Day Care Centre (top of Guy Fawkes Street at the back of Ordsall Hall) and moving around the block.
People are asked to bring fluorescent bracelets or sparklers to light up the procession as well as banners or posters showing their feelings about the possible closure. Further info on this e-mail email@example.com
DEFEND OUR DAY CARE CENTRES!
9th February – Vigil outside Craig Hall 4:30-6:30pm
11th February – Community Fun Day outside Civic Centre, Swinton
13th February – Lobby of Labour Group meeting
15th February – Protest at Full Council Meeting, Civic Centre
20th February – Protest as Councillor John Warmisham decides on the future of Day Care Services.
Further details on these actions and copies of petitions can be obtained from Salford City UNISON, 443 Chorley Rd, Swinton 0161 794 7425/793 3126