First of all the consultation on such a change to people’s lives seems to have been carried out inadequately. Increasingly it is good practice by local authorities to consult with communities about major changes that will affect their lives.
Legal precedent established in R (Boyejo) v Barnet LBC (and R (Smith) v Portsmouth City Council (2009) means a local authority need not consult on the closure of social care services but if they do they must do this properly.
• It must be undertaken at a time when the proposals are still at a formative stage.
• Sufficient reasons must be given to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response.
• There must also be adequate time for such a response.
• Disabled people must be involved in the decision in a substantive way.
In the case of Kemback it seems that a number of omissions have been made. At no point in the decision making process was it made clear to the people being consulted that the possible closure of the centre was up for discussing. Using phrases about “modernisation” and “reprovisioning” serve to obscure what is happening not to allow intelligent consideration.
Using a small group of “Have You Say” advocates paid for indirectly by the council would not be seen by any independent party as being a substitute for a full consultation of affected parties. Even the earlier PIP events did not make clear that the proposals included closure of a service that some of the current service users have been of for over 27 years.
This failure to consult properly is compounded by an inadequate use of Equality Impact Assessments. While the council has carried out two on the broader policy, neither has looked at the details of the closure.
The Equality Impact Assessment dated 27th February 2012 does not note the closure of the Kemback service. Instead it relates only to the more general question about modernising learning disability services and replacing them with personalised services.
The Assessment form describes general elements of the process in points 2 &3 but give little idea of what the details would be like.
The equality duty is clear that there is a need to have adequate evidence on which to base an assessment but the only evidence presented are the previous committee report and a reference to the PIP review. Neither of which make any reference to plans to close the service at the Kemback Day Centre.
There are references to a previous consultation that took place at the time of PIP event but even the limited comments in the assessment make clear that this was only on people’s experiences of the service and what they wish for the future not on any actual proposals for change.
It would appear that there is an aspect “of this being a “box ticking exercise” designed to secure approval for controversial aspects of the new policy. Apparently there will be no negative impacts from this policy. The writers of this assessment seem to think that if someone is assessed as not being eligible for social care services, then the impact of the policy on them is irrelevant.
A local authority must have regard to its equality duties. If vulnerable people are no longer able to access community facilities then this will be a negative impact in their lives. They will be more isolated and alone than they had been before. As a local authority they can make such decisions but it cannot be right to pretend that they will not have an effect on people with learning disabilities.
Much attention has been paid to the value of “preventative services”. Support that helps people care and maintain relationships and prevents the needs for expensive and additional inputs. This can, of course, apply to people who have support services in place already as well as those who only have access to day services. The effects of isolation and inactivity can be serious and life changing for the worse.
It is clear that people valued the service provided by Kemback and the “Out and About” service. Those who used the service had grown in confidence and maturity through its work.
This is in line with national policy that sees the move towards community-based services like Kemback as helping to:
• create local solutions.
• nurture the support of family networks, friends and relations through good involvement and partnership strategies, and evidence of reliable, safe community-based practice.
• develop deliberate practice strategies to build connections and inclusion, and thereby develop natural supports around people.
• take things one step at a time and celebrate success so that others can see it’s possible.
• prioritise people with higher support needs to ensure they have the opportunity for individualised support and can take up opportunities in community settings
(SCIE Guide 16, Community Based Day Services)
Kemback is a relatively modern centre with decent facilities – it even features on the LDAS Changing Places Map as one of the few specialist public toilets in the country for people with profound disabilities.
It is a service valued by those that use it and those that care for them.
The danger in the approach adopted by Dundee is that of alienating those that use services in Dundee. Breaches in consultation and the application of the equality duty in this case would give a legal challenge the 70:30 probability of success that it needs to make it to court.
It would be much better to stop this process now, properly consult with those involved in the Kemback Out and About services.