Edinburgh’s Engine Shed is now in the process of closing and will wind up over the next 6 months. But are other services facing a similar fate?
Last year thousands of people signed petitions and protested against the closure of Edinburgh’s Engine Shed. This vital service provided much need training for young people with special needs when they left school and college. It gave them time to get ready for the world of work. The Engine Shed was also popular because of its café, wholesome foods and conference facilities.
However it was dependent on a grant from Edinburgh Council to continue operations. But those grants have been under pressure for a while and further cuts are proposed in the 2015-16 budget.
Edinburgh’s specialist employability services to date have been delivered by six providers, the Engine Shed being one of these. A plan proposed a move to a single service from April 2015. This new service would to be based on a ‘supported employment ‘model i.e. where individuals are placed in work and then supported
The council would move away from training opportunities and invest all its money in helping young people directly get jobs. At the time many people thought this was short-sighted and did not take into account the differing needs of young people with special needs and were able to win a year’s reprieve for the service.
However despite the fine words and intention of some councillors, the policy of the council did not change and it continued to pursue a single approach to helping people with learning disabilities into work. It put all the special employment service out to competitive tender.
Payment to the winning groups would be by the number of jobs achieved. Even if a service like the Engine Shed was part of the winning bid, their 3 year training programme would mean only a quarter of their existing grant.
The Engine Shed tried to negotiate alternative funding to keep going. Council staff made various suggestions to help, but none of them were ever realistically enough to fund the Engine Shed. It was just enough to say they made the effort.
The Engine Shed went on to get specialist advice to improve how it ran its business but nothing was proposed to end the long term pressure on grants. For many years, stand still budgets for voluntary organisations have been common. The grant remains the same but costs keep on rising. Reserves get spent, wages are cut and reductions in service become commonplace. The Engine Shed was getting less money in 2013 than they did in 2003.
For the Engine Shed, they were running out of options. They couldn’t make changes quick enough to beat the problems of the recession.
Reluctantly the management of the Engine Shed has decided to close and to examine new opportunities to “rebirth” the service in the future.
There are a number of areas that should be of real concern here.
There are elements in the Council’s process of “policy rush”. A new policy is decided and suddenly it’s the only show in town. We now need to support people after they get a job and not train them first. So that will be the only thing going.
The problem is the people who lose out will be those furthest from the job market, those with little experience and skill who need help.
Other policies such as the Scottish Government’s college reforms that led to end of many part time college places for people with learning disabilities who used the short courses to learn important skills.
The new payment by results policy will put pressure on the all the new organisations to get more people into work. 30% of the funding will be linked to the number who get jobs. There will be a real pressure to achieve success at the expense of those with greatest needs.
This new way of funding services means that organisations who want to win have to put in a competitive bid. GIVE BACK is a term has sprung up for how this works. The organisation works out what they could do for the money and then decides how much to GIVE BACK to the council and then reduces their service by 5-10%. Organisations quite rightly reason better to have a reduced service than none but this means that the service is reduced in scope and intensity.
LACK OF CHOICE
Self Directed Support is meant to mean choice but tendered contracts means that people can only get these services the council approve. While the Engine Shed remains popular with those who use it, it is strange to see this unique and valued service vanishing by neglect.
The questions we will have to face in the future are
- how much choice do people with learning disabilities really have if there is only one model of support for them and
- how many other services that people rely on are also suffering from this gradual restriction on council funding?