Lancaster and Morecambe disability kids club cuts halted for review

Lizzi Collinge with parents Nicola and Bob outside Morecambe Rd School.jpg
Lizzi Collinge with parents Nicola and Bob outside Morecambe Rd School.jpg

Plans to close after-school and holiday clubs for kids with disabilities have been suspended by Lancashire County Council.

Parents, who have previously described the provision as “a life-line”, crowdfunded for a legal challenge against the original decision to cease funding for the scheme.

Following a campaign by parents from across Lancashire, including those from Lancaster and Morecambe - and county councillor Lizzi Collinge - and subject to approval by Cabinet, funding for Lancashire Break Time will continue until an in-depth review is completed.

The county council, which funds the clubs under the Lancashire Break Time scheme, had proposed to cease the clubs by September this year.

But it received more than 750 responses to the consultation after the cut was passed at the February budget meeting.

Parent Nikki Kimber, who was involved in the legal challenge, said: “I am delighted that LCC has decided to reinstate the funding for Lancashire Break Time whilst they continue with their consultations. The original decision to cease the funding was taken in February prior to the consultation being completed and all contributions were due to finish at the end of August.

“I think it is very positive they have now demonstrated their desire to listen to parents and carers and engage with them to ensure that the short break provision is the best it can be in the future.”

Coun Collinge, who represents Lancaster East, said: “After working with families affected by this proposal, I am pleased to see that the county council is at least taking further time to consider the needs of these kids. Listening to parents tell me their stories was heartbreaking. For many kids, these clubs provide their only social contact outside the family and to take it away would increase their isolation, which is often as a result of other activities and groups not being welcoming or able to accommodate their needs. Many parents told me that if the clubs stop they would have to give up work as these clubs are the only suitable childcare available.”

James Betts, a solicitor with law firm Irwin Mitchell, challenged the county council over its decision making process.

He said: “The council had put back the decision date, but not the date on which the funding was to be withdrawn. They have now confirmed the notice period which they would have to give – three months – and hopefully they will now work with parents, carers and providers to reach a consensus over future provision.”

A spokeswoman for the county council said: “We have had a number of responses [to the consultation] and through these it has become clear that we need to look at the whole short break service and not just Lancashire Break Time.

“We recognise that the wider service provision is quite traditional and could be better designed around the needs of children and their families.”

A report will go before cabinet on August 8.

The spokeswoman added: “We want to look at how we can consider the whole service offer in partnership with parents and carers to make sure that what we provide offers choice and better meets the needs of users. We are planning to carry out a range of activities that include face to face meetings with parents and carers to shape a new service offer.

As part of our governance we will need to take a report to our Cabinet on 8 August to formally agree this way forward. The Lancashire Break Time service will continue in its current form until the review of how short breaks are to be delivered is completed.”