Day centres could be run as social enterprise

COUNCIL chiefs are recommending that the county’s day centres for people with learning disabilities be run as a social enterprise.

Members of Northumberland County Council’s care and wellbeing committee agreed to back recommendations for council-run day services to operate in a more commercial way.

The council currently runs five day centres for those with learning disabilities, including Bedlington Day Centre and the Riverside Centre in Blyth.

The proposals would also affect the council’s horticultural skills units at Sleekburn and Hepscott Park.

The centres operate increasingly personalised services and carry out trading activities, including recycling furniture and selling plants and fresh produce.

A number of options were tabled at last week’s meeting of the authority’s scrutiny committee, and it was recommended that the services be run as part of a social enterprise to allow them to develop commercially.

A social enterprise would provide them with a framework for further development of existing services, as well as helping their users develop skills for potential future employment, the meeting heard.

Daljit Lally, the council’s corporate director of adult services, said: “We currently have a total of 333 service users at our centres.

“As the council needs to look at efficiencies within services, it is likely that the scale of in-house service provision would reduce over time, with some centres having to be amalgamated to produce a smaller service.

“There are continuing changes in the population of people requiring support to help them move towards employment, and day services need to evolve radically to meet these needs.

“If it was decided that we were going down the social enterprise route, as part of our agreement, all staff currently employed in the service units would transfer to become part of the new organisation with their existing terms and conditions.

“We will also ensure that both staff and service users are consulted at every stage.”

It was also agreed that the current total of £115,000 raised by existing trading activities be earmarked to be used as start-up funding for the proposed social enterprise.

A report on the proposal will be discussed by the council’s executive on Tuesday, September 6.

Staff at the centres, along with users and their families, will be consulted in the meanwhile.