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Cuts target the vulnerable in Ealing
Lydia Dalton speaking at the campaign to save the Albert Dane Centre and the Links Project
Over 60 people gathered in the Southall Baptist church hall for the opening of a vital campaign to save the Albert Dane Centre and the Links Project.
Neil Cafferky, London Socialist Party
The Albert Dane provides support for adults with physical disabilities while the Links provides services for young adults with mental health problems.
The hall is situated opposite the Albert Dane Centre where campaign banners opposing the closure can be seen on the nearby railings.
The closure of the two centres is particularly serious because they are the only such services in the borough of Ealing.
According to staff and service users the proposal that the voluntary sector should fill the gap is wholly inadequate to meet the area's needs.
The closures are part of 'in year' savings by the Labour controlled council. This means they are being made in advance of cuts that will be mandated by central government in the upcoming budget.
Labour councillors were invited to the meeting to listen to the objections of staff and service users to the closures but they declined to attend or even to send apologies.
The meeting was chaired by Socialist Party member Lydia Dalton who is playing a leading role in organising the campaign to keep the services open.
Lydia, who is Unison Convener of Children's and Adult Services, contrasted the shabby treatment by the mainstream political parties of those who use and work in vital public services, with the massive bailouts of the bankers and financial institutions.
To loud applause she declared that this meeting was the beginning of a united fightback by workers, service users and their families as well as the local community to keep these essential services going.
The meeting then heard moving accounts from service users about the positive role the Albert Dane Centre had played in their lives.
Val told the meeting of how she had become isolated after her husband, her main carer, had died. She was unable to leave the house and rarely spoke to people. The Albert Dane Centre was vital in helping her to break out of her isolation and socialise on a regular basis, and she is now the chair of the service users' group.
It was clear from the meeting that the relatively large turnout - organised at short notice - was down to the efforts of Val and the other service users.
The 14 year old daughter of another service user told the meeting of the tremendously positive impact that the Albert Dane had had on the life of her mother, who has been in a wheelchair for the past two years.
Like Val, her mother had been unhappy with her isolation and her daughter was worried about the effect the closure would have on her.
Socialist Party members made points from the floor, putting forward practical suggestions to take the campaign forward as well as stressing the need for the campaign to be part of a wider anti-cuts alliance in the borough.
One service user who spoke was scathing about the three main political parties and said only the Socialist Party was prepared to help them.
The final decision on the closures will be made by Ealing council at a cabinet meeting on 9 November.
Closing the meeting, Lydia Dalton proposed that there be a mass lobby of the cabinet on that day, which was accepted.
A campaign committee has now been formed which will plan further activity to build for the lobby. The following day Ealing council executives revealed the total contempt they hold for service users and union members.
For several days they had been attempting to remove the banners outside the Albert Dane. On Friday morning Claire Hutnell, service manager for Provider Services, removed the banners and destroyed them.
At the same time a meeting between management and service users was taking place. The destruction of the banners sparked outrage from service users and workers at the centre. Workers then bought material to make new banners and presented Ms Hutnell with a bill, informing her that the banners were not council property and she was guilty of criminal damage.
Ms Hutnell refused to pay the bill and threatened the worker who presented it to her with disciplinary action.
At this point service users walked out of the meeting in protest at the behaviour of management. The banners have gone up again since then. The battle lines are now drawn between workers and service users on one side and the Labour council and management on the other.
This is not the first time the Albert Dane has been threatened with closure. Big public campaigns have beaten the council back in the past. With a mass campaign of unions, users and the public, this campaign can win as well.