Legal Challenge Prompts Council U-turn But Lawyers Warn Further Challenges May Be Needed
By Dave Grimshaw
Campaigners seeking to halt cuts to day care services for disabled adults in Barnet are celebrating a victory after Your Choice Barnet reversed its decision to merge two centres after legal challenge was brought by a group of disabled people affected by the changes.
Your Choice Barnet, which provides social care services to disabled adults in Barnet, is a subsidiary of The Barnet Group Ltd, a trading company wholly owned by the London Borough of Barnet. Following the controversial decision to set up the trading company in April 2012, which has been subject to harsh criticism by both service users and by Unison, Your Choice Barnet proposed to merge the Community Space and BILS centres at the same time as cutting front-line staff numbers and downgrading some front-line roles.
This prompted some concerned services users to instruct specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to challenge the cuts which they said would have a negative impact on their quality of life. Irwin Mitchell wrote to the council to request a rethink.
Now lawyers at Irwin Mitchell representing the families say that Your Choice Barnet has agreed to back down on the proposals, with their legal team confirming that the plans will no longer go ahead and that further consultation will take place, admitting to families that they had “underestimated the impact” which some of the proposals would have on service users.
Despite this, lawyers say that Your Choice Barnet could face further legal challenges if any further consultations are not carried out in a lawful way.
Anne-Marie Irwin, an expert public lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “it’s a major relief for our clients that the council has decided to keep open both centres, and will look to re-consult on the staffing changes.
“However the campaign does not stop here as Your Choice Barnet has confirmed that it is still contemplating making some changes to services. We await with interest the new consultation on how families will be affected by changes and the alternative arrangements proposed by the Council’s trading company Your Choice Barnet.
“If the new consultation is considered to be unlawful our clients may well have no option but to take further legal action in relation to these cuts to care services.”
Barnet resident Susan Sullivan, 49, has Down’s syndrome and lives with her parents and brother. She receives a package of non residential care services for 5 days a week from Monday to Friday. Her father John, 70, believes that the changes proposed would affect her quality of life. She has no practical alternative to using services offered by Your Choice Barnet.
Mr Sullivan, from Edgware, Middlesex, said: “Without this legal action the changes would have been made to merge the day centres and many people would have been made redundant without a lawful consultation having taken place.
“My daughter suffers from Down’s syndrome and uses the services provided by Your Choice Barnet every day. So when I heard there were to be sweeping changes to staff levels and the two centres I made sure I did my homework and attended the relevant meetings but they just didn’t explain how people would be affected.”
As Irwin Mitchell investigated the consultation, lawyers found that an Equality Impact Assessment prepared in March 2013 as part of the consultation process identified potentially negative impacts on service users.
However none of this information was provided to Mr Sullivan during the consultation process and he was in fact told that there would be no effect on Susan and other service users.
Mr Sullivan added: “It’s totally unfair that throughout these meetings documents and information were consistently held back and not shared with the families of those who would be most affected. Hopefully now, the legal action has shown that we will not be lied to anymore and that we want to have a say on our family’s future.
“I appreciate that there may have to changes the way the Council deliver their services as budgets and situations change but we simply want to be allowed to express our views and be properly informed about how our loved ones will be affected.”
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