If Salford City Mayor, Ian Stewart, instead of ushering parents out at the end of this morning's Cabinet meeting, had seen the human affect of his latest decision in the corridor outside, he might have had a tinge of regret.
Outside, in the corridors of Salford Civic Centre, parents of disabled children were in tears – men and women…
"Connor, will probably end up in residential care and I'll lose my son" wept Sharon Leah "I'm absolutely heart broken.
"It was disgusting, he invited us into the meeting but didn't want to hear us when we tried to reply to things" she added "It's as if we're vermin."
The disrespect that Ian Stewart and his Cabinet of Assistant Mayors showed parents of some of the most disabled children in Salford was stunning and, quite frankly, nauseating – particularly after he labelled them `rent-a-crowd' earlier this year (see here).
The Mayor and his Cabinet were about to make a decision on the future of children with disabilities who currently use The Grange as a facility for short terms breaks. Salford Council aims to close this service at The Grange and, instead, put children aged seven to 14 with foster carers and those over 14 in the adult facility at Granville (see previous article for full details – click here).
Parents wanted to bring home to the Cabinet meeting and its array of Assistant Mayors what the plans would mean for their children, and how the report in front of them wasn't anywhere near the full picture.
They wanted to point out the lack of consultation over the plans, how most parents opposed the moves and how safeguarding issues had not been fully addressed…
Stewart said that he would allow one parent to speak for five minutes. But the parents all had a different point to make about the impact upon their children …children with complex learning difficulties, autism, cerebral palsy and more.
These parents have never been through the process of Council meetings. They just want their children to be safe and well cared for. And they wanted to express their concerns to those who were tasked with making the decision...things like how their kids would have a bath, or how they would be able to play in the garden…
One parent, Alan Tunnacliffe, told the Mayor that more than one person should be allowed to address the meeting and that it was unacceptable for just one to speak… "We move onto the main meeting" said Ian Stewart, completely ignoring the request.
So, no parents were heard, as the Assistant Mayors only had John Merry, Assistant Mayor for Children and Young People, to take them through the Council's version of the proposals.
"We've sought to address the issues raised" he said "…we can meet parents concerns…we can support young people in separate parts of the building…one parent emailed us to say she was `impressed' with the proposals…This is a different way but not necessarily a worse way…etc etc."
When he'd finished a handful of Assistant Mayors asked a few anodyne questions… "Nobody has heard my views on the young people" shouted Alan Tunnacliffe, as Stewart said there was "no possibility of engagement between the public and Cabinet". Alan walked out in disgust.
Meanwhile, his wife, Margaret, interrupted John Merry who was busy soothing concerns, explaining that the regulatory bodies had "expressed no objections" to the proposals…
"So it's ok for adults and children to mix?" she asked…
"Next question" said Stewart ignoring her.
The Mayor summed up how he had "listened carefully to parents" and had to do "what's in the interests of all adults and children in the city", before passing the plans without any dissent from his Assistant Mayors, and then personally showing the public the door.
Outside, there were tears from some parents, anger from others…
"I seriously now believe that we don't live in a democracy" said Alan "It's absolute rubbish, you're not allowed to say anything. They said one person could talk for a token five minutes – was he frightened of parents' views? If we asked any questions they blanked us completely; what a waste of time. Everything that Stewart said, he's gone back on."
Margaret explained that "at the formal meeting we had with the Mayor and John Merry at the end of September, Stewart turned round and said that if they couldn't separate children and adults the proposals wouldn't go forward. He's lied."
The parents point out that two rooms are being proposed for upstairs at Granville, and if the children stay in there, almost like a prison, they won't mix with adults. But if they want to play in the garden or partake in activities, or in some cases use the bathroom, they will be mixing with adults.
"My son can't even have a bath without going through the adult areas" said David Thornley…
"I feel as though Ian Stewart is shoving every person with a disability away in Ellesmere Park [which houses Granville and two special schools], that's his plan" decided Sharon "Just shove them all in there. He just doesn't care. Connor's not going to Granville. End of."
Indeed, all parents who attended the Cabinet meeting this morning were adamant that their kids won't be going to Granville.
"We'll get no respite now" said Alan "They always harp on about how carers will be looked after, well they're not. We've got to be fit and well and healthy in order to look after these children…"
And Sharon added "The chances are we'll end up cracking up, we're already worried about our health."
David could barely speak… "They're abandoning us. I'm a single parent, what am I going to do?"
A UNISON member who works directly with the children at The Grange explained the full potential affect of the Mayor's decision, which is supposed to save money by bringing children with long term care needs, who are currently placed in centres outside of the city, back to Salford …
"Parents are going to break down, children are going to be in full time care and they're not going to be able to bring anyone in from outside anyway because all the spaces will be taken up by children of parents who just can't cope any more…"
Despite the decision, the fight to Save The Grange is still not over. The campaign is looking for a councillor with a few morals left to `call-in' the decision on all sorts of grounds. If there is one councillor in Salford with such morals they are urged to get in touch with the campaign.
There are also other avenues to reverse the decision which will be looked at in the coming weeks. To keep up to date with developments see the Save The Grange facebook site.
Main photo shows Margaret Tunnacliffe with children Nathan and Lucy