County council decision to close respite centre in Hemel has been suspended

Plans to close three respite centres in Hertfordshire have been suspended

County council plans to close three respite centres for adults with disabilities have been suspended - pending further scrutiny.

Hertfordshire County Council offices

Hertfordshire County Council offices

Currently the county has a network of eight short break centres - where adults with physical and learning disabilities in Hertfordshire can stay overnight.

But last week (February 24) a meeting of the county council's cabinet decided that three of those centres - Tewin Road, in Hemel Hemstead, Hixberry Lane, in St Albans, and Apton Road, in Bishop's Stortford - should close.

Cabinet members heard that the existing service was underused - with data suggesting that the average occupancy at some of the centres is as low as 44 per cent.

And they were told that closing the three centres would save the council £970,000 a year.

But now that decision has been challenged by a group of Liberal Democrat councillors, who have formally asked for the decision to be 'called in'.

And that means the decision will be formally considered by a special meeting of the county council's overview and scrutiny committee.

In calling for the decision to be 'called-in', the group of Liberal Democrat councillors suggest the decision has been made on "a false premise".

And they say the council's statistics fail to show there is over provision of beds or that there is a downward trend in usage.

They suggest under-utilisation is down to poor communication. And they say there has been an over-reliance on anecdotal statements to suggest that families no longer want this kind of facility.

They say that in calculating the percentage of under-use no allowance was made for the unavailability of beds through use of wheelchairs.

They say there is also evidence that carers have not been given information about their rights to respite care, that some have been refused respite breaks - and that there are waiting lists.

And they also suggest that the council hasn't demonstrated that it has worked with the carers of adults with learning disabilities on either of the consultations.

"Morally and ethically, should the council terminate a service to the most vulnerable in our community, and their carers, because of administrative convenience?" states the application for the 'call-in'.

"The council has said that ‘there will be a fully co-produced process to develop a new strategy’.

"Let the new service that will result be introduced and tested before any attempt is made to reduce respite breaks, notwithstanding the serious concerns raised at the head of this document to the soundness of the original recommendation.”

As a result of the call-in, the closure decision will be considered by a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on March 11, which will be open to the public.

At that meeting the committee could decide they have no objections to the decision, to refer the decision back to the executive or officers for re-consideration or to refer it to a meeting of the full council.

Meanwhile, commenting on the closure decision, a spokesperson for the county council said: "As a local authority we have a responsibility to make the most effective use of funds available to us and to ensure that a range of options are available to everyone using the service.

"These proposed changes remove the spare capacity in our centres without reducing the amount of overnight respite care provision currently available to families across Hertfordshire.

"This means that the amount of short break service available to users will remain the same."