"I just want a fair decision and an informed decision. I'm not a political being, that's not my role but Jesus said we have to fight for justice and for the poor and that's why I'm here - because I can't see any of that going on." Reverend Avis Gordon.
This morning over sixty people protested outside the Civic Centre, before a Salford City Council Cabinet meeting to discuss cuts of £1.616million to the city's Health Improvement Service, which helps elderly and vulnerable people to improve their wellbeing.
Campaigners, including Health Improvement workers, those who run community projects and those who use the services, gathered to demand that the Council holds a public consultation on the slashing of services, holding up cards that spelt `Time To Consult' and `No To Cuts'
"What we're asking for today is for the Cabinet to consult the public who actually use the service" Salford City UNISON's Ameen Hadi told the crowd "This isn't a radical demand, but if people are using a service they have the right to know why they are losing a service and a right to have their voices heard. That's all we are asking for today."
Following the protest, those who use the services and manage community projects that will be affected by the cut, went into the Cabinet meeting and tried to hand over a petition to Salford City Mayor Ian Stewart. He refused to accept it, citing protocol and saying it had to go through the `petitions officer'.
The public sat through the first part of the meeting and heard Assistant Mayor, Councillor Lisa Stone, say how the Health Improvement Service did "fantastic work" but the Council had to "prioritise outcomes", to re-direct the £1.6million cut into other services and to choose "the most appropriate areas to stop".
Assistant Mayor John Merry raised concerns about the city's mental health and wellbeing policies, saying there should be a "more comprehensive strategy" while Assistant Mayor Peter Connor added that the Community Impact Assessment for the cut was not clear – the one which stated there would be `no expected impact' (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
There was then a break where the `petitions officer' accepted the petition, and handed it to the Mayor who said "There is nothing in it that hasn't been discussed". It was shortly after this point that everyone in the public gallery walked out of the meeting...
"I'm disgusted" said Bernie Lomax, project manager for a Lower Kersal project that works with the Health Improvement Service (H.I.S.) team "I think we've just been totally ignored..."
"...it's because we're not rich" added service user Anne Jones "We get hit all the time. It's not fair and it's about time Salford people got heard – not the rich, the poorer ones."
Earlier, Anne, who attends healthy eating courses and a `wellbeing' coffee morning at Lark Hill Primary School, told of the impact it would have if the H.I.S. team gets cut...
"If these people go, where do we go then?" she asked "There's nowhere for families to meet up, have a chat and a coffee, put the world to rights and feel a lot better about yourself. The team has been doing cooking on a budget as there's a lot of young families who have never been taught to cook at home, and these ladies are coming in, showing you how to shop for the week and use the same ingredients for different meals every day.
"It will affect a lot of people" she added "We just get the worst end of it all the time. We pay our taxes like everyone else, why shouldn't we get the services like everybody else? It's always low income families who can't afford to get transport everywhere and pay for different courses."
Also at the protest was Reverend Avis Gordon, Associate Minister at St Thomas' C of E Church in Clifton Green... "I rely on the Health Improvement team to help me with the issues we have in our parish" she said "We have a lot of elderly people, we have a lot of lonely people, vulnerable people; we have mental health issues and these are the people who need ongoing support. So it's no use the Council saying `We're going to help these groups to do it on their own' because there are some groups who actually need help and support and I can't do it all...The Council hasn't thought it out.
"I think the Council should consult the public – and not the public who answer consultations; they should get out there to all the places where the H.I.S. actually works and talk to people" she added "Putting something on a website is not going to reach the people. I just want a fair decision and an informed decision. I'm not a political being, that's not my role but Jesus said we have to fight for justice and for the poor and that's why I'm here - because I can't see any of that going on."
Her husband, Stewart, added: "The Council wants the vulnerable to look after the vulnerable. They're being asked to provide services, and they're not trained to do that, they're just ordinary people. They haven't got the skills to organise budgets, do administration, CRB checks...and they shouldn't be expected to do it. It's just not safe unless there's a paid worker helping."
It is expected that much of the money being taking off the H.I.S. will be given to Salford Community Leisure (SCL) to try and replicate some of the lost services but health improvement worker and UNISON member Paul Foster believes this won't work...
"Our services are free and all community based, and I can't see anyone paying an induction fee of £15 at the gym or whatever it costs at SCL" he said "We work with some really difficult people and groups that are hard to reach...asylum seekers, people with drug and alcohol problems, the homeless and older people. I've delivered dementia awareness sessions to over one hundred people since October; it's part of Government targets yet this is one of the services they're cutting.
"We work face-to-face with around 15,000 people and have groups on top of that" he added "We do a massive amount of work with the elderly. We visit them and get them out of the house to community groups; if we didn't do that it would be a double whammy for them because they've had their care packages taken off them already as they're classed as only `moderate needs'. How are the other services going to get them to the groups we set up, if the groups we set up aren't there? Where are they going to go? They won't even be able to get out of the door."
One group who did `get out of the door' this morning were those who walked out of the Council's Cabinet meeting in disgust that these vulnerable people won't have a service, and aren't even to be consulted about losing their service.
With a reverend citing Jesus on the side of the Health improvement Service campaigners, and service users saying poorer Salford people don't get heard, it's incredibly embarrassing for the Labour Party in the city with an election looming next week...
* UPDATE: 29th April
Salford Council Cabinet and the Salford City Mayor passed the cut yesterday - with no mention of a Public Consultation. The £1.616m is to be "redirected to support Early Years; Salford Community Leisure and a redefined neighbourhood offer; and public health protection through a strengthened environmental health function".
Photos by Steven Speed