A SHAKE-UP of South Tyneside Council’s day centre services will save the taxpayer £700,000 a year, it has been revealed.
Today the man charged with driving forward the controversial changes offered a robust defence of the plans – while accepting they are “unsettling” for some service users.
In recent weeks the Gazette has highlighted concerns over the imminent closure of day centres in Wilfred Street, Boldon Colliery, and in Gainsborough Avenue and Hampden Street, in South Shields.
Coun Allan West, the council’s lead member for adult social care and support services, accepted the changes had been driven, in part, by the need to save money – the authority has earmarked another £48m in efficiency savings over the next three years.
But while there will be fewer buildings, he said the council is committed to “higher-quality buildings and preserving services”.
Coun West revealed that the annual saving being made from the review will be £700,000 – much of it achieved through lower building maintenance costs.
Currently, 340 people use council-run day services, most of them – 193 – adults with disabilities. The remaining 147 are elderly.
Coun West said: “I’m aware how unsettling change can be.
“There is a fear of change, but we will work with the individuals involved to ensure they are prepared for that change.”
The review leaves South Tyneside with only three main day centres for the elderly and adults with learning and physical disabilities – at the Phab Club and Perth Green Community Base in Jarrow, and at the Father James Walsh Centre in Hebburn.
Instead of “physical centres” the council aims to place an emphasis on using existing community facilities, and community organisations and charities, with service users being taken to places such as Bede’s World in Church Bank, Jarrow, Ocean Arts in Ocean Road, South Shields, Arts for Wellbeing, in Derby Terrace, South Shields, and the Holder House Allotments in Whiteleas, South Shields.
A community hub is to be established – initially at a soon-to-be established building in the borough – and within three years inside the new central library to be built at South Shields’ Market Place.
Coun West, who spent his career in education, said the hub would be an “enhanced information centre”, from where service users will be directed to facilities in the community which best suit their needs. He said: “As an authority we have faced horrendous cuts. I believe we were the seventh-worst-hit in the country.
“In terms of buildings we have had a real issue. We had too many, they were under-used, not fit for purpose and were expensive to run.
“It was inevitable that things had to change. Retaining the status quo was not an option.
“We need daycare services that are fit for the 21st century, with a focus far more on the individual, with services that meet the needs of each individual. That is why we began this process in 2010/11.
“It’s a highly challenging process, but we are committed to enhancing the quality of life of our citizens.”
No decision has yet been taken on the future of the three axed daycare centres.