Guide Dogs makes job cuts in school closure

Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is closing its rehabilitation school in a move that will see 20 job cuts and savings of £1 million.

The charity, which lost £20 million on the stock market last year, opened its School of Vision and Rehabilitation Studies in 1991 to train students to pass on skills to blind and partially sighted people such as learning Braille and how to use a walking cane.

More than 300 students have passed through but next month's intake, which is due to graduate in December 2004, will be the last.

"The gap between what we can afford and what we require to run this course is a pretty big mountain to climb," said Frank Villeneuve-Smith, business manager at the school in Hindhead, Surrey, which employs 15 people. Another five are based on a separate campus in Glasgow.

"There will be a consultation exercise to see how staff may be deployed but I imagine there will be redundancies in 2004," he said.

Besides financial difficulties, Guide Dogs is closing the schools because it doesn't see why it should bear the financial burden for training in this field.

"There is an ongoing debate within the field of visual impairment as to who should be running this course and who should be paying for it.

This could force people like social services, the Government and other charities to think a bit more seriously about it," said Villeneuve-Smith.

Each student's training costs £17,000. Some are sponsored by Guide Dogs, others by individuals and companies at a cost of £5,000 each, with Guide Dogs picking up the remainder of the cost.

The full-time diploma of higher education in rehabilitation studies - the entry-level qualification to be a rehabilitation worker in UK - is accredited by the University of Birmingham. The only other course in this field is run at the University of Central England in Birmingham.

No decision has been made on the future of the Hindhead building, which is owned by the charity. The Glasgow location is rented.

The announcement comes six months after Guide Dogs announced the closure of its 13 residential training centres, where the visually impaired learn guide dog skills.

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