AN under-threat service helping severely disabled and mentally ill people find work has won a reprieve from council cuts.
The Employment Support Service (TESS) was threatened with closure in July – as Coventry City Council claimed it could no longer afford the £300,000-a-year cost.
But council leader Ann Lucas has now intervened after wide protests, including from opposition election candidates and unions including Unison, which represents nearly 3,000 council staff.
Opponents pointed to repeated claims by the council’s Labour leaders that they would protect the most vulnerable from heavy cuts in council funding by central government.
The service is now set to be kept open until the end of the year at least – but it remains under threat for next year.
As we have reported, the award-winning TESS helps some of the most vulnerable adults and young people with learning disabilities, autism and severe mental ill health.
Unison said they were among the most disadvantaged people in the jobs market and would be “thrown on the scrapheap” if the service at the Jobs Shop in Coventry city centre was lost.
Union leaders had accused council leaders of ‘tick box’ cuts – making bottom-line savings without thought for the long-term loss of vital services.
Unison claimed that scrapping the service would end up costing the taxpayer more in benefits, NHS and other costs.
Coun Lucas yesterday sent a statement to fellow councillors announcing plans to find the funds to keep the service running this year.
She said that would allow time to explore alternative ways of funding the scheme including European funding – as Unison had suggested.
David Cockroft, assistant director (City Centre and Development Services) had told the Observer last week only half the funding could potentialy be secured from European grants, and there was no guarantee of success in bidding.
Coun Lucas’s statement says she has asked cabinet member for finance, Damian Gannon, to identify money from contingency funds to pay for the service.
She says: “I have therefore asked Damian to identify resources today (which will be taken from the Policy Contingency Budget) to enable the service to continue, initially, until the end of December. This figure could be between £100,000 and £150,000.
“This, I understand from officers, will allow us to continue work already underway to identify new sources of funding.
“In particular, officers think we have a good case for European funding which would provide 50 per cent of the funds needed to continue the service.”
It is speculated that other sources of funding could be accessed if the council was prepared to meet some of the costs.