Day centre service users fail in judicial review bid

R (Parker and Gilbert) v Birmingham Council – 13 August

Local authorities are required to undertake a fundamental review
of their services including social services to ensure Best Value as
defined by the Local Government Act 1999.

Change and improvement are the keywords in the Best Value
lexicon, and many service users are concerned that services they
have used for years will be replaced or removed. Best Value also
means that service users should be consulted about proposals for
change and improvement.

In Parker and Gilbert the council had undertaken a fundamental
service review of many of its social services, including the
provision of day centres for younger mentally and physically
disabled people. The claimants were two of these people who used a
day centre five days a week in what was described as a
“traditional” use of the day centre.

There had been consultation of service users and their families
which constituted a series of questions about the service provided,
but no options were discussed at this stage.

The council decided, following the consultation, to reject the
options of no change or improvement of existing services, for an
option which was described as “person centred” and community based.
Referrals to the day centres were to be stopped and resources
transferred to community based provisions.

The claimants were fearful that implementation of the policy
would lead to the running down of the centres which would
eventually make “traditional” provision unfeasible, and they
brought a judicial review to challenge the consultation process on
the basis that they had not been presented with the options

Mr Justice Sullivan ruled that the claimants had been premature
in bringing their application, and refused the application for
permission to move for judicial review. He said that there was
nothing in the documentation which suggested that those who needed
traditional day centre would be abandoned and have the service
removed, and there would in any event be a full consultation
process by the council before any decision was taken.

Comment: Although the claimants were unsuccessful, the
application clarified some of the complicated “management speak”
used in the Best Value documentation, and confirmed that, if
needed, traditional day centre services would be provided.

The case also highlights the difficulties that individual
services have in enforcing consultation rights at the “policy
making” stage of the Best Value procedure. Effectively, the court
said that the claimant’s own service must be under threat before it
would be appropriate to complain about any failings in the
consultation process.

Stephen Cragg

Doughty Street Chambers

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