'It's part and parcel of their life': Council withdraws from community services

Yass Valley Council withdraws from community services

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FRIDAY CLUB: John and Maureen Willecott and Brenda Levy (back, first three); Hilary Howard and Glenda Dykes (front) may lose their only weekly outing. Photo: Hannah Sparks

FRIDAY CLUB: John and Maureen Willecott and Brenda Levy (back, first three); Hilary Howard and Glenda Dykes (front) may lose their only weekly outing. Photo: Hannah Sparks

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Community services including transport to medical appointments and the supermarket for residents who can't drive, aged care and social and disability support are under threat.

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COMMUNITY services including transport to medical appointments and the supermarket for residents who can't drive, aged care and social and disability support are under threat after Yass Valley Council in NSW decided to withdraw its involvement.

On October 23, five of the nine councillors present at their ordinary meeting agreed to transfer the council's community services to other providers, but without any guarantee that would happen.

The main reason was cost, with the council estimating a deficit of $84,719 for running the services or worse, $243,719 if overheads were factored in.

However, for elderly residents, the decision could mean losing their only weekly outing.

Glenda Dykes has been going to Friday Club - a social group for seniors and one of the services under threat - for the past five years or so.

"The club has been very popular. We lose a few but then we gain a few. We always do something different. I enjoy the variety of activities and the people," she said.

What are you supposed to do if you're just at home? Watch television? - Brenda Levy

Like most Friday Club members, Ms Dykes no longer drives and relies on the community bus to take her from Linton Village to the club every Friday.

John and Maureen Willecott also catch the bus every Friday from Murrumbateman.

"Maureen looks forward to it. It's her day out," Mr Willecott said.

The club has guest speakers three weeks of the month and in the fourth week, members share life stories, show photos and talk about the future.

"What are you supposed to do if you're just at home? Watch television?" said Brenda Levy, who has been going to Friday Club on-and-off for about four years.

Mrs Levy is diagnosed with cancer and dementia. Not only does the club have social benefits for Mrs Levy, but her husband and carer John also benefited from the club's recent dementia talk.

He was disappointed to hear the club might not have a future and said he has contacted local federal member Mike Kelly and state member Wendy Tuckerman to see if they can help.

"There are a lot of elderly people in Yass and it's part and parcel of their life," he said.

The charity and community sector has a greater grasp of the issues than what the council do. - Cr McManus

It's unknown how much Friday Club costs the council, although it would include the cost of two casual staff and the hire of APEX Seniors Hall, the council's October 23 report stated.

Programs under the social support funding stream, which includes Friday Club, aren't individually costed out, the council's general manager Chris Berry said.

However, at the last audit, expenditure on all social support programs was around $10,000 more than income, Mr Berry said.

The council's community services rely on about 40 volunteers, casual and permanent staff who help more than 300 residents, according to the council's report.

The council also employs three staff to manage its community services.

Mr Berry said he would look for redeployment options within the council for the three staff, "unless they decide to move with the service to the new provider."

None of the services have transferred yet, "however negotiations have commenced with several providers and initial response has been positive," Mr Berry said.

If and when a provider is identified, they would then need to be endorsed by funding providers including the Department of Social Services, Transport for NSW and NSW Department of Health.

The council has agreed to a March 31, 2020 deadline to transfer the services.

If an alternate provider wasn't found by that date, "the funding is returned to the relevant funding agencies and it becomes their responsibility to secure another provider," Mr Berry said.

The council agreed that it should stop providing NDIS services when its accreditation ended at the end of October, although Mr Berry said they were still working with NDIS to manage the transition of those services.

"To my knowledge, those services are still being provided. Not all of our NDIS clients require accreditation," he said.

The council said grant funding covered the operational expenses of the services when the council began running them but has "progressively declined" since then.

The council also said there has been an increase in alternative, accredited specialist providers such as Anglicare and Valmar that can provide the community services.

Valmar has expressed an interest in taking on the council's NDIS services and clients once the council withdraws, according to the council report.

The councillors at the October 23 meeting included Cr Abbey, Furry, Jones, Reid and Turner. They passed the recommended motion without debate.

Cr McManus, Burgess, Harker and Frost were not at the meeting.

Speaking at a later date, Cr McManus said he also would have voted in favour of transferring the services.

"The charity and community sector has a greater grasp of the issues than what the council do. I believe the discussions will include looking after employees," he said.

Cr Frost also said he would have voted in favour.

"The sad truth is that, although this type of service is seen as the bread and butter of government, the administration of social services by the council has not been a success," he said.

"Councillors have ensured that there is a good prospect of a professional specialist organisation taking over that will provide a higher level of services to the community. I am very hopeful that this will happen and will watch the situation carefully."

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The story 'It's part and parcel of their life': Council withdraws from community services first appeared on Yass Tribune.

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