Advocacy group to lose funding

Monica Hunter, director of People First (Scotland)
Monica Hunter, director of People First (Scotland)
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A CHARITY that helps provide a voice for people with learning disabilities is facing a fight for survival after the city council announced that its funding is to cease.

People First Edinburgh helps around 150 members stand up for themselves and represent their own interests. The group, which dates to the early 1980s, is unique in Scotland in being led by the people that also use and benefit from the service.

People First (Scotland) on Easter Road

People First (Scotland) on Easter Road

The city council has announced it will stop funding the Easter Road-based organisation, which has received an annual grant of around £40,000, due to its review of “independent advocacy services”. It wants to save £755,000 over three years by awarding three contracts to only two providers, rather than the numerous current providers. But the move has sparked claims that officials are prioritising savings at the expense of service users.

Monica Hunter, a director of People First Edinburgh who suffers from learning disabilities herself, said: “The organisation is for people with learning disabilities to get their rights and also support to believe in ourselves, but the council wants to put money into professional organisations.”

The 42-year-old, who lives in Gorgie and has used the service herself for 19 years, said: “What we want is our own groups that are user-led.”

But the withdrawal of funding is set to spell the end of the organisation’s work in Edinburgh.

The city council has agreed to award Partners in Advocacy the contracts for advocacy services for both people with learning disabilities and older people and adults with physical disabilities, while Advocard has secured the contract for people with mental health support needs. The total cost of the contracts over three years is £2.5 million, which will provide £716,983 of savings.

Councillor Ricky Henderson, finance spokesman for the Labour group on the council, said: “Labour opposed the use of this process at the outset and it’s very sad that the outcome is the loss of a valued and well-respected local group who speak up for people with disabilities.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The council’s top priority is the interests of service users and those we have not been able to provide a service for in the past. The advocacy review, which was jointly conducted with NHS Lothian, highlighted a significant number of people who weren’t receiving a service. They will now do so.

“Advocacy for people with learning disabilities is not being reduced in any way. This will be provided by Partners in Advocacy, an experienced advocacy organisation.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com