A concerned constituent contacted me recently with the disappointing news that a much-loved service for Edinburgh’s disabled children is due to close at the end of September.
As reported in these pages, parents of children supported by Capability Scotland’s Westerlea Early Years programme are fighting for the service to continue after they were told by charity managers that they had “been unable to secure sufficient funding to continue and there is simply no viable alternative”.
Westerlea provides respite care, music, group play, sensory and hydrotherapy sessions for children up to five years old with additional support needs. Edinburgh City Council has offered Capability Scotland a grant of £62,248 per year for three years to run the Westerlea service. In line with awards made to other providers, this grant represented 95 per cent of their previous award.
Despite this, Capability Scotland has concluded that they can no longer support the services at Westerlea and that the funding on offer was not sufficient to enable them to offer a high-quality service for the 60 families that rely on it.
Parents have launched a petition to save the service and, given what they have been told by Capability Scotland, have quite reasonably cited lack of funding as the reason for closure. Capability Scotland, however, are not being entirely open with parents. The reason for closure is not a lack of funding but the fact that Capability Scotland has sold Westerlea for £5.85 million to developers Oilmews Ltd.
This is the culmination of a series of significant events. Westerlea House was given as security to the Capability Scotland Pension Scheme in 2008 in order to meet any future shortfall in pension liabilities.
By 2012, the pension fund had a £3.7 million deficit. In 2015, Capability Scotland signed missives of sale and applied for planning permission to convert the buildings into 42 flats. This was granted on June 30, 2016 and on the same day the sale to Oilmews was confirmed. None of this has been publicised by Capability Scotland.
Charities that provide such valuable services to children should be open and honest in their communications with parents.
Capability Scotland has been economical with the facts in relation to the closure of Westerlea Early Years and it is regrettable that the need to plug a hole in its pension pot has been given priority over the needs of vulnerable families.
Andy Wightman is a Green MSP for the Lothian region