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Posted on 1 August 2011 at 15:12 GMT

Steve North addressing a rally against the closure of Lancaster House, Salford, photo Hugh Caffrey

Steve North addressing a rally against the closure of Lancaster House, Salford, photo Hugh Caffrey   (Click to enlarge)

Marching to save supported accommodation in Salford

Lancaster House in Salford provides supported accommodation and rehab for hundreds of young men who otherwise would be homeless. It now faces closure.

This will affect hundreds of current and future residents, at least 150 every year. Lancaster House is owned by a private company but funded by the local authority.

Councillors are now trying to cut the funding, as they retail the 40 million spending cuts wholesaled onto Salford by the Tory-Liberal government.

Eight thousand supporters have backed the campaign online, with nearly 2,000 more signatures collected on paper petitions. Residents, staff and supporters including Unison members and Socialist Party members marched on Monday 1st August to lobby the council to keep Lancaster House open.

Before setting off, I spoke to David Allum, chair of the residents' Peer Group:

"It's a vital service for the people of Salford. The phrase I keep using is 'an injustice to democracy', the councillors are not listening, yet over 8,000 people support the campaign! That's a sizable number of people in Salford, but the council are still making decisions behind closed doors.

"We'd love to see the report the council have done, but they won't let us see it because it's got 'sensitive financial information'. We asked for a copy with the figures blacked-out, but they still haven't sent it us".

Salford council Unison branch secretary Steve North addressed the demonstration.

He slammed "this brutal and unnecessary cut", demanding the council "listen, think clearly, change their minds and reverse this cut." Steve reminded everyone how we have been here before and overturned so-called 'done deals':

"The council thought they'd made their decision when they cut Salford Women's Centre funding. But the women who used the centre, the kids and the community fought back and the centre stayed open.

"It's a privilege to address this demonstration and - on behalf of Salford Unison - we will support you as much as possible to make sure Lancaster House stays open".

Following today's decision by the 'lead member' responsible for the service, it will be referred to scrutiny by a panel of councillors, and then to the full council to decide.

David said the campaigners are going to fight it the whole way:

"We'll carry on the campaign all the way to the High Court. The council have breached the Disability Discrimination Act and we're looking to a judicial review.

"Just because the council say 'no more' doesn't mean we'll leave it there!"

Hugh Caffrey, North West region Socialist Party

Additional report written on 11th August 2011

Residents and campaigners fighting to save supported accommodation in Salford have slammed the council's "weeks of misinformation and misdirection" over the closure of Lancaster House.

The campaign is now preparing a High Court legal challenge for a judicial review, against the Labour council's "illegal and undemocratic" process.

In a statement to press, residents' peer group chair David Allum said:

"It has become blatantly apparent that the Labour Party hierarchy has leaned on members to support their Lead Member, our call to them today is it is now time to stand up and be recognized rather than being whipped into obedience... Every step of the way, Salford Council has tied both our hands behind our backs and continually moved the goalposts.

" This decision making process was never fair and it was blatantly clear that this decision was made long before the 'process' had begun."

The campaign is receiving mixed messages from councillors, including a number who have offered some support. "Save Lancaster House" is strongly supported by Salford UNISON and Salford Against The Cuts and has received widespread media coverage.

10,000 people have supported the campaign online or by signing petitions. Yet the council leadership seem prepared to run the service down as a step to closure, and spend 50,000 on a court case they are likely to lose.

David says: "For a council that is so concerned with saving money in this climate this does not make sense... The only reason the council leaders would not be willing to take part in this process [of council scrutiny committee debate]... is if they have got something to hide.

" Lancaster House has proof of this and it will become fully clear in the courts."

Socialist Party Salford fully supports the fight to save Lancaster House. We endorse David's call to end "the era of closed doors politics".

Through our campaigning round the year and at next year's council elections, we will seek the elementary democracy that residents of Lancaster House are rightly demanding: "proper transparency and full accountability of decision making."

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