Disabled charity is ‘economical with truth’ over Murrayfield service

Parents protest against the closure of Westerlea at Capability Scotland's office. Picture: Jon Savage
Parents protest against the closure of Westerlea at Capability Scotland's office. Picture: Jon Savage
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AN MSP has accused a leading charity of being “economical with the facts” over the closure of a lifeline service for parents of severely disabled children.

Capability Scotland has told mums and dads of youngsters with conditions such as Down’s Syndrome that lack of funding has forced them to shut down the Westerlea Early Years service, which runs specialist sessions for 0 to five-year-olds and their families.

Around 50 families use the service, based at Capability Scotland’s HQ in Ellersly Road, Murrayfield, which has been sold for conversion into flats.

But Lothian Green MSP Andy Wightman said the council had offered funding only slightly down on the amount provided in previous years and claimed the closure decision was in reality linked to a pension deficit and the use of the Westerlea building as security.

He said: “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.”

Mr Wightman said Westerlea House had been 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 30 June 2016 and on the same day the sale to Oilmews was confirmed.

“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.”

The city council awarded Capability Scotland a grant of £62,248 per year for the next three years to run the Westerlea service – 95 per cent of their previous funding. But the charity told parents the service will close by September 30. Five staff are to be made redundant.

Hazel Wilkinson, one of the parents campaigning to save the service, said they were still waiting to hear from the council about what help it could give. She said: “If Capability Scotland are not going to take this service forward we want the council to work with us to do that.”

The city council said the 95 per cent funding offer was in line with awards made to other groups. A spokeswoman added the council was still keen to work with the parents.

A spokeswoman for Capability Scotland said the funding offered by the council was “considerably less” than the charity had bid for. She added: “We concluded that we were unable to provide a safe, affordable service on the funding offered.”

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