Concern new bid to help people with disabilities could shut day centres

Matty, 29, who has a learning disability is working at Broadland High School as the result of a Norf

Matty, 29, who has a learning disability is working at Broadland High School as the result of a Norfolk County Council pilot project. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Concerns have been raised that a new drive to empower people with learning disabilities could spell the death knell for some of the county's day centres.

Bill Borrett, Conservative cabinet member for adult social care. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

Bill Borrett, Conservative cabinet member for adult social care. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives. - Credit: Norfolk Conservatives

Norfolk County Council says a new strategy aims to help people with learning disabilities and/or autism become more independent - including getting jobs.

A pilot scheme has produced successes, including people who now catch buses to get to work.

So the council is appealing to the county's business bosses to consider employing people who have had support to give them the skills they need for work.

The council says the Life Opportunities strategy, due to be agreed next month, is not to save money and will not change the £14m annual spend on 1,400 people with learning disabilities.

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But it marks a significant shift from the traditional model of using day services to support people, with new 'pathways', encouraging people to develop life skills through learning, training and paid work.

With 64 day service providers in Norfolk, council leaders acknowledge some could close.

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However, the council says it has come up with the new plan in consultation with people with learning disabilities, their families and service providers.

Bill Borrett, cabinet member for adult social care, public health and prevention at the Conservative-run council, said: "We have been told by people with learning disabilities and their families that this is what they want, so we need to get on and deliver it. I'm confident the new proposals will help people get better outcomes, more tailored to what they want."

However, Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: "This looks like the death knell of a number of day centres to me. We will be looking at it very carefully, especially given what happened to children's centres."

Liberal Democrat county councillor Tim Adams said: "The proposals do not address in any great detail what part Norfolk's wealth of smaller providers and charities will play here.

"This certainly does concern me, as I feel they have a great deal to offer."

Mr Borrett said: "It might be challenging for one or two of the providers and I am not going to hide that. If they are delivering something that service users say they do not want, then the county council should not be in a position of protecting them."

Case Study

Around a dozen people have already been through a pilot project run by Norfolk County Council, with support from The Assist Trust.

Among them is Matty, 29, from Norwich, who has been working for Edwards & Blake in the kitchen at Broadland High Ormiston Academy.

He works from 10am until 2.30pm and is pleased he's been able to get a paid job.

He said: "I like anything really, job wise. I do the washing up, I use the dishwasher, I do the paninis."

He said before he started he was a bit nervous, but was excited the next day and said: "I get along with people and the staff and I get more self-esteem."

Caroline Leeks, the second chef in the kitchen, said: "When they first come they're quite shy and in themselves and then, when they've come a little while it's nice to see them progress and their confidence come out. It's nice to see that you've helped somebody."

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