Kids First events: The Big Parent Debate:
What do the cuts in Merton mean for parents?

The Big Debate on March 8th 2011 was attended by 52 parents among an audience of 91 people.

Stephen Hammond MPStephen Hammond MP downplayed the effect of cuts to Local Government saying that Merton’s overall spending power would go down by less than 4% and that short breaks money has been protected.
Maxi MartinMaxi Martin, Lead Councillor for Children’s Services, on the other hand, told us about the many millions of pounds of deficit Merton are now facing and said that the Borough cannot implement cuts without anyone noticing; in other words, it seems, without affecting front line services.
Paul BallattPaul Ballatt, Merton’s Head of Strategy and Commissioning, explained that Short Breaks money from the Government was not ring-fenced (in other words, it appears this could mean that money could be spent on a number of other things).
The main cuts affecting disabled or SEN children and young people in Merton are outlined below.

(Please note, cuts do not necessarily mean the complete loss of a service; in some cases, such as Kids First, it means looking for other sources of funding.)

  1. Parent support services: including Kids First.

  2. Positive activities for young people: The Squad, a club for young people and adults with disabilities.

  3. SEN Transport: the increase in budget to allow for additional numbers of children is lower than it should be by £100,000. Merton hopes to find alternative providers in the local community who will use volunteers to reduce costs.

    Parents were concerned that a cheaper service may mean an unreliable or unsafe service.

  4. Short Breaks: Brightwell (Merton’s overnight respite home) will be cut by £70,000 although, at the same time, there is a reorganisation which brings together Brightwell, Outreach and Short Breaks services, allowing the Borough to remove a layer of middle management to cut costs. As part of this change, Brightwell will start to provide after-school services, 4pm - 9pm services, and will only provide overnight breaks at weekends and for a smaller number of children.
    It may be the case that more families will use Brightwell in a more flexible way but all current users face a reassessment of their needs and may be offered alternative provision.

    Parents expressed concern because disabled children need consistency and reliability.

    New overnight placements will be available at foster homes, a service managed by Barnardo’s, which is aimed primarily at younger children. Some overnight respite places have also been purchased with out-of-borough providers.

    Many parents are worried about the effects on their family and about their ability to cope if their respite services are cut or changed.

  5. Other services affected by cuts: Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Education Welfare Services, School Quality and Standards, and Connexions. Connexions will continue to provide specialist SEN advisors and the CAMHS service will lose a post, which is currently vacant.

  6. Back office cuts: Paul Ballatt explained that there have also been significant back office cuts but did not have all of the details.
    Parents are concerned that some of these may result in a slower or poorer quality of service.

The Short Breaks Programme’s future is unclear

We did not establish whether short breaks, such as summer play schemes, will be the same as last year; and we did not establish whether Outreach services will be resumed once the staffing problem has been sorted. We will keep members informed about this.

What next?

Kids First representatives will talk to Councillors and Officers about these cuts but we need to know what is actually happening to services!

Please contact us and tell us: “What is happening to you?”
Tel: 020 8687 4644 Email