Bristol Community Links, otherwise known as Day Centres, have recently been at the centre of some of Mayor Marvin’s cuts. Its manager, Sonia Moore, faced with quite a budget shortfall chose to make cuts to the centres’ transport and also, er, increase the number of highly paid managers in her department. Because that is just what a service making cuts needs – more managers.
But what about the transport? How are some of Bristol’s most disabled and complex adults, living at home with mum and dad, going to get to their day centres? Well, Sonia decided to decommission the transport (a dozen or so minibuses and a handful of cars) and replace this transport with alleged spare capacity in the (privatised) special needs school minibus service*. The theory was, once the school minibus had taken the kids to school they would then go off and pick up the punters and take them to the day centres. Likewise with going home in the afternoon. The council would then be able to halve the number of vehicles it hired and halve the drivers it needed. So, as long as you didn’t mind being picked up an hour and a half later, it is business as usual.
So far, so good. But unfortunately, not all has gone well. Here are the highlights:
* New hours inconvenient to you? Tough, says Sonia. You can bring your loved ones in yourself if you don’t like it. Some of those parent / carers with jobs have had to do so. Others have decided to keep their kids at home more and struggle on. Several families faced with this have given in, a further blow struck against people whose lives are dominated by care-giving.
* The new ‘service’ suddenly refused to continue to take people to respite care homes, which meant that parents could no longer got a rest from permanent care. For people with family members who have complex needs this is the only chance they can ever have to take a holiday. Instead of going away for a few days to rest and recuperate the parents have to stay behind and deliver their kids to the day centre each day. Something really important was lost here: care for the whole family, not just the disabled person.
* Some parents complained, other parents suffered in silence. The ones who complained were provided with transport, the others who didn’t complain are still picking up their children.
* Sometimes the transport picks up people from respite care and leaves behind those whose parents haven’t complained, even though there are spare seats. This, I feel, is one of the more brutal failures on the list. Managers know what the right thing to do is but are deliberately refusing to do it.
* Some people have been left behind because of clerical cock-ups. Requests to the new company to pick up regulars have been met with refusals. More than my job’s worth, mate! Health and safety, not insured, and other excuses that have never, ever been used in the history of social services.
*Sonia hasn’t made it clear that all the transport will be discontinued in 12 months. She says she has told them, but the parents have no idea at all. The news was buried in a letter and the word ‘reviewed’ conflated with the notion of a social worker coming round and having a bit of a chat over a cup of tea and a jammy dodger. It is an open secret amongmanagers, politicians and contractors that it will all be gone in 12 months.
*One of the minibus companies hired is rumoured to be the one that left that Downs Syndrome child alone on the bus for six hours outside one of Bristol’s schools, mere weeks ago, remember that?