City Conservatives have today joined the growing chorus of opposition to the government's shift to personal budgets which could see valuable local services, such as the Essex and Silver Rooms, closing. I thought I would say, in more detail, why this is.
The decision to close the Essex and Silver Rooms comes as an unfortunate move for Norfolk County Council, forced in part by the Westminster government telling our local government to move to a “personal budget” model which represents a dramatic change from the former block-contracts system. Though the “personal budget” for social care offers people greater freedom, it doesn’t readily allow for day centres because they cannot guarantee the income they previously received, effectively forcing their closure.
No centre can move ahead without knowing it will be funded properly. Under “personal budgets” the centres may survive but if a number of people move their funding away from them, then they will have to shut. If these services close, where will people who depend upon that specific centre then go for care? It seems to me that this shows one of the potential weaknesses of the new system. I am strongly urging Norfolk County Council to recognise the needs for these important centres to stay open, especially given the shortage of day centre places and the waiting list to attend many of them.
So ... what now?
I will be working with my colleagues on Norwich City Council – from all parties – to see what we can do to help the campaign. I know some people believe all is lost, but I feel positive we can change this decision if we all work together. If we can prove that this is a genuine cross-party campaign with the strong backing of local people then we have a chance.
Norfolk County Council have options - for a start opposing what is being forced upon us by the national government. I hope they are in a listening mood.