Two Birmingham day centres for adults with learning disabilities will close in the latest phase of a radical city council restructuring of social care provision.
Aldridge Road, in Perry Barr, and Collingwood, in Northfield, are expected to shut by the end of the summer, saving £5?million in maintenance costs.
But the council was insistent last night that the plan was not driven by financial considerations.
Sue Anderson, the cabinet member for adults and communities, said occupancy levels at the two buildings were low and the centres did not provide the wide range of activities and support that most carers and clients expected and wanted.
The 143 men and women who regularly use Aldridge Road and Perry Barr will be offered places in other council-run day centres or encouraged to select specialist help and training opportunities offered by the independent and voluntary sector.
Coun Anderson (Lib Dem, Sheldon) said direct payments of up to £12 an hour would enable people to choose alternative provision. Opportunities might range from horse riding sessions, to work placements or hiring a personal shopper for a few hours.
She also announced a period of consultation on “developing a modern day service” – something that critics fear heralds the eventual closure of the remaining seven council day centres.
The latest moves follow controversial social services decisions since 2004 to close old people’s homes and phase out the meals on wheels service in favour of shared provision between the council and the independent and voluntary sector.
Coun Anderson denied she was “dismantling” services, adding that the council was following advice from the government and copying many other big cities by giving clients greater choice by moving away from expensive traditional local authority-provided institutional care.
The mounting cost of looking after an ageing population meant that scarce resources had to be diverted to those most in need and the council could no longer afford to run buildings like day centres and homes, she argued. She said change was long overdue.
“We have been stuck in Birmingham with some very traditional services that will not meet future needs,” said Coun Anderson.
“I am struck when I go around the country over how other councils have embraced change. But Birmingham has been stuck in a time warp.”
Shelia Rochester, service director for young adults at the council, said: “The needs of individuals aren’t being met by these traditional services.
“They may satisfy the needs of carers but our aspirations have moved on. Some people want to be independent and do things for themselves.”
All users of Aldridge Road and Collingwood will be offered individual counselling by the council and helped to choose to alternative provision.
A formal decision to close the two centres will be taken by the cabinet on May 11.