• Young woman (and others) denied a voice over plans to close children’s homes in Devon

    12th March 2014 | News | Claire
  • Here’s the story, webbed by the Express & Echo ………………………………………………………….. http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/Insensitive-County-councillor-criticises-decision/story-20798284-detail/story.html

    Concerns have been expressed that the public were barred from speaking at a crucial county council meeting regarding the fate of three local authority run children’s homes in Exeter and Tiverton.

    Dozens of people turned up hoping to speak at the meeting of Devon County Council’s People’s Scrutiny committee meeting yesterday afternoon to hear the discussion.

    But according to other councillors, chairwoman, Councillor Sara Randall-Johnson ruled that it would be “inappropriate” to permit members of the public to speak at this stage in the process.

    The full council had previously voted in favour of drastic budget cuts that would see the closure of the county’s children’s homes: Birchen Lane, Blossom Corner and Rifford Road.

    Instead, the council wants to commission the care from independent service providers and homes.

    But members of the People’s Scrutiny committee, tasked with scrutinising decisions of the council, subsequently refused to back the full council’s decision and voted to debate the issue again, before going back to Cabinet today, Wednesday, March 12.

    Among the members of public who wanted to speak at the special meeting to re-address the issue yesterday afternoon, was a 21-year-old woman who had previously lived in one of the council’s homes.

    It is understood she wanted to tell councillors how valuable they are and how they should not close.

    The decision not to permit the public to speak echoes a similar situation at the recent full council meeting when there was uproar after the young people who turned up to speak to councillors about their proposals to cut its youth services budget threatening the future of its children’s homes, were not allowed to speak.

    Councillor Andy Hannon who is against the decision to shut the homes, said the decision not to permit the public to speak yesterday “seems to be a tactical error”.

    “It gives the appearance that people’s views aren’t wanted,” he said.

    Cllr Hannon said the chair seemed to base her ruling on “procedural” reasoning.

    “Following what happened at the full council meeting, this shows yet again how insensitive the ruling party is to public opinion,” he added.

    “We have a responsibility as corporate parents to look after children in care.

    “The discussion focused on whether it would be worthwhile to have council run children’s homes alongside independently run homes – they offer a very valuable service and the feeling is that they should be in the mix.”

    Cllr Rob Hannaford, added: “I proposed a the meeting that we should allow people to speak because it’s so important we have a full debate about such vital issues and hear from those who will be directly affected by any decision which is made.”

    The Echo has contacted Cllr Randall-Johnson for comment.

    A county council spokesman previously said: “We are reviewing all three homes in light of new regulations.

    “No decisions have been made yet and won’t be until consultation with staff, police and other partners has concluded.”