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Bristol City Council Cuts Short Breaks for Disabled Children

A reduced budget and changes to eligibility criteria was passed at the Council House

Cuts and changes to the way short breaks are funded for Disabled children and young people in Bristol, were voted through at the first meeting of Children and Young People Policy Committee last night.

A total of £273,340 has been removed from the short breaks budget, with eligibility criteria for the service also updated.

Bristol City Council officers recommended four specific changes following public consultation which were voted through at the end of the agenda item.

  1. Agree to reduce the Short Breaks for Disabled Children’s Service by £273,340 in line with options in the consultation report.
  2. Authorises the Executive Director Children and Education in consultation with Chair of the Children and Education Committee to procure and award the Targeted Short Breaks contracts in-line with the procurement routes and maximum budget envelopes outlined in this report.
  3. Authorises the Executive Director Children and Education to invoke any subsequent extensions/variations specifically defined in the contract(s) being awarded, up to the maximum budget envelope outlined in this report.
  4. Agree changed eligibility to Bristol Autism Project so it is accessible by families living within Bristol City Council Boundaries only.

Full meeting of the first Children and Young People Policy Committee on 27 June 2024
Short Breaks section starts from 43:50

Two representatives from short breaks providers gave statements about the potential service cuts.

Debbie Teml of FACE (Foundation for Active Community Engagement) raised ‘grave concerns’ which she said would have a ‘detrimental impact’ on Disabled children and their families.

Teml said: “We do not feel this consultation was adequate, and it was overwhelmingly negative. Feedback is not representative of the cohort of families receiving support with only 172 respondents. The consultation took place over Christmas where families are at their busiest and not able to effectively engage.

“Respondents referred to the consultation as complex and difficult to understand and overall, it showed overwhelmingly strong opposition to the proposed cuts.

“Parents highlighted that the services provided through Short Breaks are crucial for the health and stability of their families. Specific feedback included comments like: “This funding is a lifeline. We can’t hold down a job without this support”. This is echoed in every consultation we run, and are feedback to commissioners every year.

“The Committee paper specifies an arbitrary figure to cut, but does not indicate the strategic and principled considerations as to how these cuts will be targeted.”

Matt Justice of WECIL echoed the same concerns, saying: “The EQIA does nothing to clarify the actual impact on this cohort of Disabled Children and Young People or their families, or to offer any effective mitigation. We urge the Committee to reconsider this approach and instead, to work with Disabled people’s and parents/carers’ organisations to build on existing excellent practice and co-produce an alternative solution.

“We appreciate the financial challenges faced by the council but strongly believe that cutting this essential support is not the solution.”

Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a range of short break services to help families, parents and/or carers provide care or do so ‘more effectively’.

These can be holiday activities or breaks at weekends, evenings or overnight.

A consultation on proposals to reduce the budget ran between 21 November 2023 and 02 January 2024, with only 182 people managing to respond to the survey.

Of these, 80 percent of respondents were Bristol residents. A 52 per cent were parents or carers with a child currently using a Bristol short break service. A 24 per cent were parents or carers of a child with special educational needs and disabilities (Send). After that, 10 per cent of respondents were from a health or social care professionals and 06 per cent were employees of Bristol City Council.

Following the presentation and discussion, Green party councillor for Knowle, Cam Hayward, seconded the motion which saw the proposals come in for the vote.

Six councillors voted for the changes and cuts, with only two voting against. These were Labour Councillor Katja Hornchen for Brislington East and Labour Councillor for Bishopsworth Susan Kollar.

During the discussion, Head of Children’s Commissioning, Gail Rogers, responded to a question from Green Councillor Shona Jemphrey about why the short breaks budget was chosen. Rogers said: “A lot of our services have been subject to budget reductions so I don’t know it’s specifically this service but we had to we had to publish some reductions. Last year in the medium-term financial plan we published publicly. So you’ll see looking at that that reductions were actually across the board quite widely set. So this was a service which was hit along with lots of other services in order for us to create a balanced budget.”

In response to a question asked about what would happen should the committee not agree to the proposals, Rogers said: “The process for that I suppose is that executive director would be tasked to look at where the savings would come from within the overall range of savings and we would need to find that same amount from within Children’s Services. The the process you know would be a review, full review, led internally which which also may result in our needing to consult, particularly services that have been delivered over a long period of time, the same as this one. We need to consult on making reductions so the process won’t be a short process, it will follow the same sort of process I guess that this took in that largely they would probably need to go through consultation, the public consultation, come back and be approved by yourselves.”

Executive Director of Education, Hannah Woodhouse said: “We’re trying to mitigate it as as much as we possibly can also trying to do that in consultation. Recognizing we need to continue to learn with parents and carers as we do that. But I think you know part of the reality of where we are is that there isn’t another. We considered whether we should be looking at options, there aren’t other options that we could go to. There will be implications either way. Obviously we’re wanting to give clarity.”

Labour Councillor for Brislington East, Katja Hornchen said: “I fear that if we give them even a small cut knowing some how charities work, even a small cut, and this was reiterated in the statements as well, could make the feasibility of the Charities which are very small, well WECIL’s not a small charity, but Play Bus I think it’s the Play Bus on there. They’ve had so many cuts over the years and they’re probably running on a shoe string at the moment or sniffing diesel. That could be their final death blow. And that means that you won’t just have that little cut you have another whole hole because they won’t be able to provide that service. That has happened to Charities regularly over the last 14 years. I’m worried about that, so that’s that effect which then affects the parents not just that one hour that they’re missing, which could have detrimental effects, but they could miss that entire service because the service can’t run anymore.”

Councilor Cam Hayward asked: “In sections 11 and 12 of the evidence based in the report it discusses how there’s a high concentration of people from the deprived areas of the city that use this short break service. Obviously we know Bristol is a really unequal city as it is. What steps can the officers take to ensure that any cuts to the service don’t impact on those from lower social economic backgrounds?

For Bristol City Council, Hannah Gillet responded: “So children access based on assessed need and that’s the child’s individual need but also looking at the needs of the family and there maybe additional pressures on the family because of socioeconomic factors as well. So predominantly it is a needs led based service. But what we want to do in terms of especially our commissioned offer is kind of really look at where services are. Can we make sure that they are targeted to those areas? So that you know if families can’t afford to get a bus to the other side of the city or they don’t have access to transport they’ve got easy links to those services. So that we can try and you know minimize the impact in terms of having to travel or having to pay to get there or you know how do you manage getting there when you’ve got another child to look after. So that’s something we want to look at.

“You know Bristol, it’s hard to find spaces as well to hold sessions. We want to support providers with that as well. To link in with special schools where possible, ask them if they could be venues. We used to have an arrangement like that which ceased but looking if we could reinstate that because then it means children can access near to where they go to school and usually near to where they live. So there’s kind of those those things we’ll look at and also we’ve got our sessions coming up with parents and that’s something we want to kind of tease out there and get their views on as part of that engagement process.”

The moment the budget for Disabled Children’s short breaks was cut at Bristol City Council

Following the vote, committee chair Green Councillor Christine Townsend for Southville ward said the decision had been ‘really difficult’.

Addressing the gallery she said: “When the contracts come back we’re specifically bringing it back. The budget setting I will have direct involvement with. It’s a different set of policy committee chairs and it’s a different leader that will be looking at the budget when we go into budget setting. We’re going to be really clear from the contracts what the impact is and I will ask my committee to support me as I go into those budget consultations to bring that to bring that money back in.

“Because at the at the moment the only way that we can put the contracts out including this money, is to take it from somewhere else in children’s services which is equally as damaging and equally as difficult. We’d be back here talking about another aspect of children’s services with another group of people saying “please don’t do it.” We wouldn’t ideally be in this position of having to ratify a decision of which we didn’t have any involvement in or that had already been taken out of the Children’s Services budget.

“However it is my intention to go back into the budget consultations in order to bring that back into the short breaks and for it to be protected. I can’t say that’s going to work but what I will say is that I’m going to use myself and my committee and my executive lead for children’s services and education to put that case really strongly. I’m reasonably confident that that will get a good hearing. Let’s put it that way from those that are also policy chairs now and the lead while we set those budgets.”

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