‘Let’s have less of the management speak’

Sue Bott of the National Centre for Independent Living warns how tighter criteria and the demise of user groups are hitting disabled people. Amy Taylor reports

T he early months of the year were a turbulent time for the National Centre for Independent Living – it had to issue its staff with redundancy notices. But speaking on the eve of the organisation’s AGM last week, new executive director Sue Bott says she is “optimistic” about the future.

Bott, who started at NCIL in July after 15 years as chief executive of Shropshire Disability Consortium, says that the financial problems did lead to three redundancies. Many of its difficulties were caused by a delay in receiving its section 64 funding from the Department of Health, but with the money now in the bank she says NCIL is on a steady footing and taking a fresh approach to funding.

“The point is that the organisation has come to recognise that we do need to argue for full cost recovery and we need to diversify our funding streams, not just rely on a few.”

One of the issues high on the AGM’s agenda was the importance of local service user organisations led by disabled people. In recent months, several have been forced to close down or downsize as contracts have gone to larger organisations.

Bott’s previous organisation closed down in December 2005 after three contracts it held with the local council were put out to tender.

She says tendering appears to favour big organisations that are able to reduce costs, because of economies of scale, and have expert knowledge of the process.

But when it comes to direct payments or individual budgets there needs to be recognition that local support from other disabled people is of value in itself and this will not be achieved by national organisation.

“Fundamentally we are not talking about a contract to provide the council with stationery or the schools with food, this is about social care. This is more complex and the people-to-people relationships need to be recognised and valued,” she says.

NCIL led a protest on the issue at last year’s National Social Services Conference. This led to a joint protocol between NCIL and the Association of Directors of Social Services in June recommending councils support the development of user-led bodies and enable them to compete for contracts.

However, Wiltshire  and Northamptonshire  are just two of several councils that have recently tightened their eligibility criteria for adult social care services.

Bott says this “makes a mockery” of the government’s rhetoric on independent living and that it needs to provide social care with adequate resources. Instead, disabled people’s situation enables the government to brush the issue “under the carpet”.

“It makes me very angry because if you are at home and you need assistance to get out of bed in the morning to play an active part in society then you are not going to have strong lobbying force.”

Bott says directors of social care now have a duty to speak out to ministers and need to be up front about what’s happening.

“Let’s have less of the managementspeak and let them ask themselves why it was that they went into social care in the first place.”

What was the first single you ever brought?
Come Together by The Beatles.

Do you have any pets?
A border collie which I love.

What’s your favourite food?
I had real cheesecake in New York which was good.

Where did you last go on holiday?
I went on a Jubilee Sailing Trust tall ship from Belfast to Cardiff. The trust organises joint sailing holidays for disabled and
able-bodied people.

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