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Fight now on to save disabled respite centre
Norman Hall, South Tyne and Wear Socialist Party
An angry protest took place prior to the cabinet meeting of Gateshead Labour Council on 3 November at very short notice.
On the agenda was the privatisation or closure of Grove House, a respite centre for mentally and physically disabled children between eight and 18 years of age, among the most vulnerable members of society.
Around 30 people, predominantly parents of Grove House users, made their opposition clear.
There was disbelief that the Labour council could threaten a service that is a lifeline for families in Gateshead. Parents pointed out that, as care of their disabled children is so demanding, it is only during respite that they could spend quality time with their other children.
Following the protest, in a BBC interview council leader Mick Henry said: "We have a situation where people like those at Grove House, a small number of the population, a very, very important part of the population, but are actually taking over 50% of the budget.
"Unfortunately, when you ask people they're more concerned about grass cutting and street cleaning, and understandably so."
Councillor Henry's statement has caused outrage. It is beyond belief that so many people can be insulted in so few sentences. The disabled kids who are compared to grass cutting and street cleaning, the families accused of eating up 50% of the budget and the people of Gateshead as a whole.
And how much will the closure of Grove House save? A meagre £280,000, bearing in mind £45,000 has been spent on refurb of offices for the council leader and cabinet.
The proposal is now under consultation but no option is ever available to call on the council to refuse to implement cuts and use their reserves of £77 million to protect services such as Grove House.
Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity call is in danger of being undermined by the actions and attitudes of Labour councillors such as Mick Henry.
The fight to save Grove House is now on. Sign the petition online at: www.change.org/p/councillor-henry-gateshead-council-leader-save-grove-house
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