Social services managers in Birmingham are in no doubt about the size of public backlash against plans to close three day centres used by more than 140 adults with learning disabilities.
Peter Hay, city council strategic director for adults and communities, said he did not want to underplay the impact on carers and families of shutting buildings that had been an important part of the lives of profoundly disabled people for 40 years or more.
But Mr Hay insisted the council had no choice if it was to provide a service “for the 21st century”.
The centres are Collingwood in the south of the city, Hockley and Aldridge Road in Oscott.
The council is beginning a three-month consultation with users of the city’s nine day centres, which Mr Hay said were under-used and needed £8million in repairs and refurbishment.
Younger adults were opting for voluntary sector and private sector services rather than council day centres which could not always provide the type of leisure and cultural activities demanded by disabled people and their families.
Only two weeks after the council first announced its intentions, a 1,000 signature petition calling for all centres to remain open had been submitted by campaigners.
Mr Hay is preparing for a sustained protest campaign which could match the fury a few years ago at the council’s decision to shut the city’s old people’s homes – again on the grounds of modernising the service.
Mr Hay added: “We may not need the large number of day centres that we currently have, but any alternative provision must commend public confidence. The council’s budget for learning disabilities is one of the most generous in the country but we are not seeing a delivery of service that matches investment.
“I fully understand that there are some very anxious people who have been using these services for a long time and some very worried carers and parents.”
He added that the number of adults with learning disabilities is expected to grow by six per cent a year, adding more pressure to the social services budget which is already overspent by £10million.
Oscott Conservative councillor Graham Green said most people did not trust the council to consult fairly.
Coun Green added that service users feared a decision to close the three centres had already been taken and the results of consultation would make no difference.
Sue Anderson, cabinet member for adults and communities, said: “I can understand people’s concerns but we should look at this as an opportunity rather than a threat. Many people, especially younger adults, want a service that is better than the one they are getting at the moment.
“This is not about worrying people or giving them a second class service. it is about saying that people with learning disabilities deserve something better.”