Protests after RNIB shuts centre

Deficit-hit RNIB has been accused of "asset stripping" after deciding to close a rehabilitation centre for those made recently blind.

Some 32 jobs will be lost in the planned closure of Manor House, a residential rehabilitation centre for newly blind and partially sighted people.

Staff and former clients say the centre's expertise cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Local Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders said the closure would remove a unique resource. "It just smells of an asset sale. It is a prime piece of real estate," he said. "What is the RNIB for? Is it just a grant chaser?

The Government needs to consider - not just in relation to the RNIB but to the whole third sector - that by dangling carrots to charities for jobs, it has created a culture of dependence on a national scale."

The charity has cut more than 100 jobs in the past year in the wake of a £6.2m deficit for the 2002/3 financial year. Some 40 jobs were cut as part of a restructure of the charity's community fundraising department in December, and more will go in the coming year.

The charity is relocating some services to further education colleges, where the Government will stump up all the funding. Staff at Manor House said 50 per cent of the current funding comes from the RNIB, but the charity denies this, and said that government funded 100 per cent of the places.

More than 100 people, including many ex-clients of Manor House, joined a protest march against the closure through London last week.

The charity's director of education and employment, Eamonn Fetton, claimed that demand for Manor House services had fallen and that services could be better provided elsewhere.

RNIB officers met disability minister Maria Eagle last week to discuss the Government's funding of rehabilitation services at Manor House and nationally.

Protest organiser Eddie Bush said: "There is no other facility that offers the kind of service that Manor House does. If the RNIB can't look after these people it should not be in the charity business. They are just asset stripping as far as we are concerned."

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