SEE PART ONE – CLICK HERE
In the previous feature, parents of children with disabilities accused Salford Council of `persecuting' their children over current proposals to `save' around £500,000.
Salford Council has a consultation running until August 14th on its plans to close The Grange as a centre for overnight short breaks for children with disabilities. Instead, it wants to put those over 14 into Granville House, an adult centre, and recruit a specialist foster carer to look after children under 14. Meanwhile, The Grange would be used for children with medium and long term care needs, currently placed outside of Salford.
Here, Salford Star editor, Stephen Kingston, grills John Merry, Salford Council's Assistant Mayor for Children and Young People, on the plans and parents' concerns...
Editing of the interview has been kept to a minimum
Stephen Kingston (SK): You say there will be no loss of service for children with disabilities but there's a £500,000 saving, so how do you work that out?
John Merry (JM): We're providing the service in a different way. We've got Granville that does adult social care and we'll be using foster carers for under 14s, so what we're saying is that the service will still be provided but in a slightly different way. But it will mean that we can save some money.
SK: You originally said The Grange had a 55% occupancy rate and dated it back to 2004 – why 2004?
JM: All I can you is that over the last two years it's been 70% which is still way below capacity.
SK: Why 70%? Is it because they've got to keep a spare bed there for safety or can't take kids because of staff cuts?
SK: If it's only 70% occupied, why did one parent have to wait 18 months or two years to get his kid in there?
JM: If you want to provide me with details of that case…
SK: I just have done. A parent waited around two years to get his kid in there…
JM: If you're saying a person had to wait two years I will make inquiries about it so that I can tell you the reason*. But I can tell you that it's not fully occupied and there are different ways that we can deal with this which ensure that the facilities we provide across the city can be better utilised. The proposal is not close the Grange
SK: One of the original proposals was to close The Grange… Given that occupancy levels are 55% or 70% why could a bloke only get his child in for half the time he needed?
JM: Let's look back, this is short term respite care and if there were lots of people going for the same period in time there might be clashes, that doesn't mean that it's not fully occupied at other times of the year.
SK: So The Grange is fully occupied?
JM: I'm not saying that.
SK: Do your figures include this bed that's left empty?
JM: I'm going to check on that.* We have a duty to provide a certain number of days of respite care for people – if he is saying that he's not getting those days that we've got a duty to provide…
SK: If it's 30% empty then you can provide it?
JM: It wouldn't necessarily help the situation because we would be spending the money that we haven't got a duty to provide.
SK: So what you're saying is `Well we're going to change The Grange because it's only got 70% occupancy but we've also denied people the chance to fill the gaps'.
JM: How long is a piece of string?
SK: Children aren't a piece of string…
JM: Of course. What you are saying to me is that if someone wants their child to have extra respite care we should provide it? I'll have to look at the regulations to see if that is medium or long term care – we can't provide those in the same premises.
SK: 64 nights, or whatever, out of 365 isn't long term…
JM: I don't know. In terms of the needs of the children we're saying that there is excess capacity that can be better utilised. If we were in a situation where we said we're going to move children from specialised foster care to institutional care you'd be running a campaign against it. So all I'm saying is that I think we should see how this works and I think it will lead to at least the current provision being maintained and I think the parents will think this is a better provision.
SK: Do you know the current occupancy rates at Granville House?
JM: I couldn't tell you off the top off my head but I can find out for you. I'll try and do that today*
SK. You're also talking about putting kids and adults in Granville House together? One proposal is having separate entrances, the other is having children and adults on separate days?
JM: The second is the more likely. It will be about making sure there will be blocks of time allocated to each service so we're not talking about potentially vulnerable 14 year old being in a situation with adults that could cause problems – we'd be wanting to provide a service that meets their needs rather than combining the two. There's advantages of being in Granville in that it's nearer to school.
SK: What so you can save on the transport too? Look, if you go for separate times you're cutting down options for parents?
JM: I think we've got to try and approach this as sensitively as possible so we want to talk to the parents, we want to see if we can design a service that meets their particular needs...Now clearly, in an ideal world, they wouldn't want the service we provide at The Grange to close. I'm saying that there are ways that we have to reconfigure our services that saves money. And one of the things I want to look at is those who are forced to live away from Salford on a medium or long term basis…
SK: You've not answered the question. If you're having different times for adults and children at Granville then you're cutting down the options?
JM: I'd want to talk to the parents about how we meet their needs
SK: But how can you meet those needs?
JM: We'll look at separate blocks of times, and it may be that for some of the older children we can look at integrating them because the moment they become 18 they go to Granville anyway.
SK: You're looking at putting 14 year olds in with adults…
JM: Clearly at 14 it's not sensible, but at 17…
SK: I think you're misunderstanding the parents concerns – the point is that a lot of these kids might be 16 or 17 but some are still watching The Hoobs on telly…
JM: I understand that - but if they are 17 or 17 and a half there is a period of transition anyway, they will be introduced to Granville a little earlier… It has a good record in the past of offering care for people, and given that it already provides a service for over 18s, I think that providing a transitional period is not a bad thing. What's the difference between a child at 17 and a half and 18?
SK: That is a non-argument…would you like to argue that for age of sexual consent…`oh well, it's only six months'?
You said there would be no loss of service – now you're saying that there will be blocks of time allocated for adults and children. But some of the parents have guaranteed times now where they can put their children into The Grange and go to work?
JM: I'm going to look at that, to see if we can provide a flexible response. I will undertake to have a look to see how inconvenienced parents are.
SK: And if they are inconvenienced what are you planning to do? Change it?
JM: I'm going to have to make a judgement at some point
SK: But we know what that judgement is going to be
JM: I am desperately trying to keep my budget within the parameter of what's available to the Council. Do I think it's an unfair situation? Of course I do! Do I think that looking at how we can provide the service in a slightly different way which the benefits maybe outweigh the disbenefits? Yes, I think that's the right approach to take. I can't promise that we're going spend the amount of money we are doing indefinitely because we haven't got it.
SK: Why is it that when we do an article about the cuts it's always about the most vulnerable people in Salford - be it care workers, mental health drop ins, always the people who need these services most…?
JM: There are some cuts which I hate and I didn't come into politics to do, where I'm in the situation to try and provide as good a service as I possibly can with the money available to me. Yes of course you've taken up a number of hard, difficult cases but there are loads of savings that we've done which don't affect service, like back room savings. I do understand these concerns and if we didn't have to deal with this government we'd be in a much better situation.
SK: It's too easy to blame the Government – and what the Council is doing is putting through these cuts or being the Tories' messenger? You're outsourcing, or privatising everything…
JM: We put through cuts because we have to. I said I will look again at whether parents are going to be inconvenienced by this.
SK: In terms of providing foster carers for under 14s, you've only got one and are talking about getting another one trained up - by October?
JM: If they are not we will continue to provide the service, we'll keep the place open.
SK: Parents don't believe that the new foster carer will have the right adaptations for their houses, like physical and sensory environments
JM: We would have to look at the costs of those adaptations and see if that was possible in order to continue to provide the service to children
SK: This is all about the bottom line isn't it?
JM: Of course. If we didn't have any cuts to make it would be a great situation and we could organise this at a more leisurely pace. But I'm in a situation where I've got to try and provide the best possible service under the restrains of the current government cuts. They're talking about another 10% cut – another £20-30 million off the budget.
SK: You've got a consultation running until 14th August - how can parents respond to a consultation when there's no final plan? Parents don't believe that kids will be safe at Granville or that these changes will be beneficial to them or their children. They also believe that the Council has already made up its mind…
JM: The Council hasn't finally made up its mind…What I want to do is to bring medium to long term care children from outside Salford closer to home.
SK: But there's problems with that too, I understand, in that some can't come back…
JM: We would look at each individual case to see whether it is possible.
SK: There's also the upset it will cause for any children with autism – either those who currently use The Grange or those outside of Salford. If you change the scenarios for children within the autism spectrum then you've got problems? Do you understand that?
JM: I'm not comfortable with this situation either way but I've got to try and find the least worst alternatives in terms of the current cut backs. You can talk about Salford Stadium and all the rest of it but you can't find me £20million savings.
SK: It's around £500,000 in this case…Is it any wonder that the parents are kicking off?
JM: I'll take their views seriously. If they are telling me that the plan is unacceptable then we'll talk to them and see what we can do within the budget to provide that. But what I am saying is that no change is probably not going to be an option, in that I've got to find the savings.
* John Merry has not got back to the Salford Star on any of these issues
The SAVE THE GRANGE petition is online at Change.org - to sign click here
There's also going to be a lobby of councillors and Mayor Ian Stewart at the next Full Council meeting on July 17th, beginning at 8:30am.
Photo is of Courtney Davies, who currently enjoys going to The Grange