Shetland care service cuts cause concern

COUNCILLORS have voted to retain a firm grip on controversial plans to redesign day care for old folk in Shetland in order to save money.

In February Shetland Islands Council agreed to review proposals to close the popular Freefield Centre lunch club in Lerwick and cut £1 million from its bill for daytime care at the isles’ care centres this year, with a further £1 million to go next year.

On Tuesday social work managers asked to be given the green light to look at ways of reshaping these services, which the council is not legally obliged to provide.

However when the first suggestions emerged for transferring responsibilities onto the voluntary sector, members of the SICs social services committee voiced their doubts.

Instead of backing the proposals outright, they insisted officers return before Christmas with more “fleshed out” ideas.

Council leader Gary Robinson warned that they were in danger of “micro-managing” social services, saying: “Whether we like it or not, we have to make tough decisions.”

Social work staff have already been consulting with Freefield users to find alternative ways of providing the £80,000 a year service, which has provoked a 1,500 signature petition to preserve it.

The main suggestions are to look for help from voluntary groups such as the British Legion, Red Cross and the Womens’ Royal Voluntary Service.

A similar approach was put forward for transferring day care provided at care centres throughout the islands.

Council staff are already working closely with Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS) and other groups to support old people staying in their communities and outside institutions.

Yet councillors bemoaned the lack of detail in the proposals, saying they had no information to report back to their concerned constituents.

Lerwick North member Allan Wishart was one of many who was worried about decisions being taken out of councillors’ hands.

Shetland South member Billy Fox said Freefield should stay where it was and he was concerned about putting too much pressure on the voluntary sector.

“We are basing savings here on Voluntary Action Shetland being able to provide these services and that depends on them getting funding,” he pointed out.

North Isles member Gary Cleaver said it was vital the council got this right otherwise they would have “fallen at the first hurdle” and her was an opportunity for them to show the public their “mettle”.

Meanwhile corporate services director Christine Ferguson confirmed that changing the way day care was provided would lead to job cuts, but she was confident that people could be redeployed without compulsory redundancies.

Community care director Sally Shaw stressed that any changes would take time to implement, but failing to do so would mean there were demands for more and bigger care centres which the council simply could not afford.

She said they hoped to find a “win-win” solution by negotiating with old folk who use Freefield and the care centres.

She also warned of the risk of creating a “bottleneck” elsewhere in social care, for example if people started to suffer depression from social isolation if lunch clubs were withdrawn.