DAYCARE services in South Tyneside are facing a major shake-up.
Under the new plan, two more centres are facing closure, and another will be “relocated”, while council bosses aim for a net loss of 19 staff – from 66 to 47.
The move is part of a bid to centralise services in a community “hub”, and the council says it will allow a more “flexible” approach to day care in the borough.
The latest day centre review comes after the recent controversial closure and demolition of the Queens Road Day Centre in Saxon Way, Jarrow, just weeks after pensioners vacated the building.
Trade unions are negotiating with council officers to ensure any job losses are met through voluntary redundancies but staff are having to re-apply for posts, with others being offered the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy. Merv Butler, the branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, said: “There is a major restructuring going on and we are supporting our members through that.
“There may be a need for voluntary redundancies and the opportunity for redeployment elsewhere in the council.
“There will be a need for people to re-apply for new jobs. There will be fewer buildings with few staff but the council has pledged a similar level of services – although the proof will be in the pudding.”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “Following extensive consultation with service users and their families last year, the council agreed a new model for day services in January.
“This more flexible approach will help to safeguard and improve services in a difficult financial climate by focusing our time and resources on services rather than the buildings where they have taken place in the past.
“By using a smaller number of bases, we will spend less on maintenance and more on the activities and support that people value so much. A reshaped and more flexible service will focus on providing high-quality services which give people more choice and more control over the support they rely on.
“This new way of working will require a new staffing structure, and we are currently working through the implications of this with a view to the structure being in place by the end of September.
“While the review has resulted in an overall reduction in the number of posts, the council always looks to redeploy staff at risk wherever possible.”
Coun George Elsom, the independent leader of the opposition on South Tyneside Council, said: “Reducing day centre staff from 47 to 66 represents a cut of almost a third and yet they maintain they are protecting frontline services.
“How can that be so when they are cutting frontline staff?
“It’s the number of councillors and councillors’ allowances that should be cut, not frontline services.”
Coun Elsom believes the council has “not thought through” the policy of reducing buildings and providing services through a community hub instead.
He said: “The community hub was the only option on the table from the very start. The council decided it wanted it and has pushed ahead with it regardless.
“But we are talking about elderly and vulnerable people here.
“Many will have great difficulty getting to these hubs, particularly on cold winter days.
“It may be seen as a ‘flexible’ approach by the council, but the service users won’t see it that way if they’re struggling to get to a community hub on the bus, because, let’s remember, a lot of elderly people don’t have their own transport.
“It’s just not been thought through.”
* Does your daycare service face the axe? Call the Gazette news desk on 427 4855 or 427 4858.