Day centre service users fail in judicial review bid

    R (Parker and Gilbert) v Birmingham Council – 13 August
    2001.

    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
    considered.

    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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