Staff and volunteers at twelve ‘friendship clubs’ for vulnerable adults across Wiltshire – including Marlborough’s New Road centrte – are breathing sighs of relief this morning (March 12) after Wiltshire Council – making a policy U-turn – suspended the ‘termination’ of their grants. Giving them all a full year’s grant for 2019/2020.
And Council’s cabinet member Councillor Jerry Wickham has apologised for the upset caused to ‘users and staff’ at the centres’.
Last Monday (March 4) the twelve organisations – including Marlborough’s New Road Centre – received, out of the blue, a letter starkly headed “Re: Termination of grant…“.
In the days that followed, staff at the New Road Centre were already starting to raise funds so they could keep open after May 31. Then came what amounts to a U-turn with this Wiltshire Council statement late in the evening of Monday (March 11):
“Wiltshire Council has confirmed that 12 disability friendship clubs will continue to get funding for 2019/20, with a new funding model announced last week put on hold.”
“The council today revisited its decision to remove the funding from a number of clubs in the county so that it can spend time working with the affected clubs on a new model going forward.”
“Jerry Wickham, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for adult social care, public health and public protection said: “Both myself and my cabinet colleagues feel that more detailed dialogue should take place with the affected clubs before we consider making changes.”
“We have decided that the most appropriate way moving forward, is to halt any reduction in the funding for 2019/20 and for officers to work with the clubs to develop a model way of operating, within the spirit of co-production during the ensuing months.”
“By carrying out this extended level engagement we will have a better understanding of the issues and will be able to determine a new model of operating.”
“In the meantime, I very much regret the upset this has caused to the users and staff at the centres and I extend my apologies. I hope the clubs will continue to work with us over the next year to ensure a successful service provision can be developed for the future.”
There is a certain amount of spin in this statement. No ‘new funding model’ was ‘announced last week’. There was no plan or funding model – just the intention to find a new way for the organisations to operate and a sum of half their total usual funding to start that process.
New Road Centre’s Chair, Debbie Bond, is pleased with the one year reprieve. She told marlborough.news: “The news of the termination of our grant from Wiltshire Council naturally caused a great deal of anxiety for our vulnerable clients who attend the Centre.”
“The news last night that Wiltshire Council has suspended the budget termination for this year is a huge relief. It will give us chance to have a consultative process with the Council and hopefully, come up with a viable way forward to secure this valuable care provision in Marlborough.”
“My intention is that we must still find a way forward to keep the Centre open.”
This change of policy on the grants for 2019-2020 only applies to the twelve ‘clubs’. It does not apply to the thirty per cent cut in Wiltshire Council’s grant to Marlborough’s Jubilee Centre.