Hope for Yarmouth day centres

Some of Norfolk's most vulnerable elderly people were yesterday given a glimmer of hope that their vital day centres would not be closed, after a final decision was put on hold until people had been given a proper say.

Some of Norfolk's most vulnerable elderly people were yesterday given a glimmer of hope that their vital day centres would not be closed, after a final decision was put on hold until people had been given a proper say.

Norfolk County Council wants to overhaul the current provision of 15 council-run day centres, which would see three close or have services withdrawn, and five switch to specialist centres for people with dementia or those who need re-ablement services.

But yesterday at a packed meeting at County Hall, members of the adult social services review panel voted in support of a delay and more consultation on the details of any changes.

That means that a decision on exactly how the service will change will not be made until the consultation ends on January 13.

Previously, the council said it was withdrawing support for the Hempnall Mill Centre, at Hempnall, near Long Stratton, and was looking at closing two centres in Norwich - the Essex Rooms and Silver Rooms.

Five other centres which would switch to specialist provision were: Laburnam Grove, Thetford; the Lawns, Great Yarmouth; Humber-stone House, Gorleston; Cranmer House, Fakenham; and Benjamin Court, Cromer.

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But the plans sparked uproar and fears that existing day-centre users would be left in the lurch.

The cabinet is likely to support the move when it meets on Monday, although the decision only affects the nuts and bolts of the policy shift and not the policy itself.

Rosalind Jones, chairman of Hempnall Trust, which runs the Mill Centre, gave a cautious welcome to the news.

Ms Jones told the session that confidence in adult social services had been “seriously eroded” because of a stream of errors including unannounced visits wrongly telling people the centre would close.

“A delay in decision-making is welcome,” she said. “However, the consultation will have to be handled significantly more effectively than to date.”

Yesterday many of the committee were also scornful of how the authority had handled the plans and said more detail should have been provided about possible alternatives to day centres to reassure people that help would still be available.

Social services bosses were also rebuked by committee chairman Diana Irving for the way the process had been handled.

“It's clear we must do better,” she said. “We are talking about services people care about.”

Alison Thomas, Long Stratton councillor, who proposed the delay motion, said more detail was needed about alternative provision in order to reassure people about what was being planned.

“It's clear that change is a difficult process to go through,” she said. “The question for all of us is where will that provision be? We are not saying we are going to stop providing that provision.”

The committee was also presented with questions from Labour city councillor Julie Brociek-Coulton asking what evidence the authority had that backed up claims there was a falling need for the services.

She also asked if staff had been instructed not to make any extra referrals to the centres.

Meanwhile Green councillor Stephen Little lost a vote to get the council to retain the service.

“What I am worried about is that if we dismantle this service and attempt to recreate them elsewhere,” Mr Little said.

“We have got to have confidence in the system that will replace what we are decommiss-ioning and the resources will be getting to the frontline.”

Harold Bodmer told the meeting it was important to stress that day-centre provision would still be available to people who needed it.

“They will be consulted about their needs and a framework of support will be put in place,” he said.

Members of the public sector union Unison also held a small demonstration outside.

Alison Birmingham, senior shop steward at Unison, said the union was staggered that the council had even considered overhauling the service without putting an alternative in place.

“We do not believe that the arguments being forward stand up to scrutiny and sincerely hope county councillors oppose the proposal,” she said.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith also welcomed the decision.

“More consultation with residents is the right thing to do,” she said. “I hope the consultation will also pull in the staff, who give their all to the service.”

Her predecessor Ian Gibson, who is president of the Norwich Carers' Forum, is to chair a public meeting about the plans on Friday at Christchurch Hall, at the bottom of Constitution Hill, Norwich, at 7pm.