Learning disability charity pulls out of council contract amid underfunding row

The learning disability support charity Hft has withdrawn from a local authority contract because of “significant underfunding” and a reported breakdown in trust.

The charity provides a day care centre and housing in Rowde near Devizes on behalf of Wiltshire Council.

Furlong Close, which has bungalows for its residents, is at risk of closure, the charity said, because of issues with funding and how the service was commissioned.

The charity wrote to service users of the property, which last year was threatened with closure, to tell them about a “deterioration and loss of trust in our relationship with the council”, according to the BBC

At a Wiltshire Council meeting this week, councillors resolved to complete a rapid scrutiny review to understand the problems that had been raised.

The council said it agreed to a 35 per cent increase in fees for residents at Furlong Close in November 2019, which it described as the “top end of what we would expect to pay for this type of care”.

The charity said the centre had been threatened with closure since last year and a planned termination date of June 2021 had been lifted, in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Discussions on the future of residential care at Furlong Close and its residents were ongoing, said Hft, and it apologised to residents for a lack of clarity about its future.

Emma Bagley, south-west divisional director Hft, said: “For some time now, the service at Furlong Close has been significantly underfunded by Wiltshire Council, and Hft recognises that the service, as currently configured, does not provide opportunities for people to enjoy a greater level of independence, choice and control over their lives.”  

Bagley said that it had been the charity’s intention to continue providing supported living services but the charity had reluctantly decided to withdraw from all services in Wiltshire as soon as appropriate future support can be found by the council. 

“We appreciate this news may be unexpected and we are extremely disappointed that we have had to take this course of action. We will be meeting with staff and families in the coming days to answer any questions they may have,” said Bagley. 

The council said it would also invite family members of residents to a meeting on 3 March.

Lucy Townsend, corporate director of people at Wiltshire Council, said: “We want to find a constructive way forward for the residents at Furlong Close for whom Wiltshire council is responsible. 

“We prefer to avoid entering into a public dispute as this is in no one's interests – especially the residents, who remain our number one priority. 

“I hope Hft adopts a similar approach.”

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