County Council responds to Milton Keynes Council Labour Group press release
Response from Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, Martin Tett and Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, Lin Hazell to Milton Keynes Council Labour Group
Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, Martin Tett, said: “I’d like to address the claims made by Milton Keynes Council’s Cabinet Member which are inaccurate and misleading.
“The County Council has an excellent record of strong and prudent budgetary control and year on year has produced a balanced budget despite increasing financial pressures. Like all councils across the country we are experiencing heavy reductions in our funding as well as increasing demands on our services. The pressures on our budgets are also being intensified by other factors, including meeting the needs of a rapidly growing and changing population.
“So it is quite right for us to look very critically at every one of our existing services to see how we can run them more efficiently, in order to preserve the crucial frontline services that residents need and deserve. This is particularly vital for safeguarding our vulnerable children, young people and adults, which is of paramount importance to the Council.
“I want to also put right some of the other assertions made by Milton Keynes Council’s Cabinet Member, Hannah O’Neill. Firstly, our children’s centres are fully open and staff there are working hard supporting children and families in communities across Buckinghamshire. We are in the middle of a full and wide-ranging consultation process on our overarching Early Help strategy to set out its future direction. Our preferred option for the future of the service is that some of our children’s centres have an expanded remit to work with children and young people up to 19 years rather than under five’s as is currently the case. Some of the other centres may change their specific use but our aim is that they would still be used, potentially by community groups, for providing a way of supporting families. However, no decisions have yet been made on the future of our Early Help service.
“Next week, our Cabinet will decide whether to consult with residents about the options for the future of Thrift Farm. Again, no decision on its future has been made or indeed can be made yet – and we want very much to engage with local people to work towards a sustainable future for how we support adults with learning difficulties. We know that Thrift Farm cannot continue operating in the way it has been because it is simply not financially viable; but whatever happens, we want to put in place good, affordable alternatives so that our vulnerable adults will receive the support they need from us.
“It is the height of hypocrisy for Milton Keynes Council to accuse us of failing to consider any offers from them. Our officers have repeatedly contacted them, kept them fully briefed and sought solutions. Often there has not even been a reply when they have been contacted. I also notice that the Labour Group’s press release does not actually propose any practical solutions but just seeks to make cheap and inaccurate political points. The vulnerable people this decision affects should not be used as a political football. We urge any interested party to come forward with realistic options which can be taken forward.”
Lin Hazell, Buckinghamshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “I am both surprised and disappointed with the comments made by Hannah O’Neill. For over a year, we have proactively been in contact with Milton Keynes Council to engage with them about the possibility of working jointly to secure the sustainable future of Thrift Farm. We have had repeated and regular proactive discussions with Milton Keynes which included emails, phone calls and meetings. We believed there was constructive discussion taking place between us; we have used our best endeavours to conduct a dialogue with Milton Keynes on the future of the farm and will continue to do so.
“We have also pursued all available options we’re currently aware of in terms of finding another provider or organisation to take over operations at the site. We have examined carefully all the proposals we have received, but none of the options proposed to date have been financially viable. Nevertheless, we are still very open to hearing from anyone who has a credible and financially viable idea about how the farm could be alternatively run. I would encourage any organisations who are interested to come forward with proposals for us to consider.”