doc

COUNCIL chiefs in Worcestershire have been warned they are "risking a judicial review" if they finalise cuts to funding for vulnerable people.

During a tense debate at County Hall today, a raft of outside bodies told politicians they were "definitely" leaving the authority open to legal challenges if they slash £8.5 million from its Supporting People fund.

The money, from a total yearly spend of £15 million, goes on a host of services for the vulnerable including call alarms for the elderly, wardens for sheltered housing tenants, debt, domestic abuse and substance misuse advice, and homeless prevention work.

More details emerged this afternoon on how the county council cuts will impact, including:

- Festival Housing say a yearly scheme to help 29 young people get training and accommodation could end

- Festival Housing could also axe 32 jobs which are funded via the cash

- More than 40 sheltered housing units for older people in Malvern requiring "high level support" to keep them out of care homes are at risk

- More than 1,700 call alarm services for vulnerable tenants will lose their funding

- District councils say over 1,000 extra people could face going into a care home and becoming "institutionalised" without the funding

Claire Hougton, from Festival Housing, said: "When this whole consultation was launched we were very surprised at the speed of the cuts.

"This gives us very little chance of getting our tenants ready - for us we've got 917 people who get help from this funding.

"The way it's been done you could lead yourselves open to a judicial review, there is definitely a risk of that."

Her views was echoed by other bodies, including The Community Housing Association, which gets funding to offer extra help to council tenants.

Chief executive Yvonne Leishman said: "We've got 1,700 older people on some kind of contract that will end on March 31st.

"The timescale is appalling, we've had no chance to sit down and mitigate for the impact on vulnerable people.

"Our issue is the process you've gone through and the whole way you've done it, I believe there's a whole safeguarding issue."

Some of the cash goes towards other services like furniture removal and mental health advice.

During the debate, which took place during a meeting of the council's adult care and well being panel, the bodies were told central Government was largely to blame.

Dr Richard Harling, a director in charge of adult social care, said: "For the people who say 'we didn't see this coming', well neither did the council.

"It wasn't until late autumn that we realised we'd have to save £30 million in 2014/15."

Supporting People is a non-statutory spending area but the protesting organisations insisted it was saving taxpayers millions by keeping people, mainly pensioners, out of care.

Councillor Sheila Blagg, the cabinet member for adult social care, said: "I am not in charge of what funds come down from central Government."

The county council needs to save £98 million by 2017 largely due to Government cuts and huge demographic pressures.

The funding earmarked for adult social care is currently 42 per cent of the entire budget and will stay that way for the next three years, but the overall spend is therefore effectively shrinking.