Joe continues his campaign for increased investment in Speech and Language Therapy after SNP led North Ayrshire Council withdrew its full funding contribution to the service.
Each year the demand for council services increases whilst budgets decrease. It is the most vulnerable in society who are suffering most as the services they rely are cut or the charges for them are increased. A prime example is the Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) service here in North Ayrshire.
In 2013 the SNP council administration decided to remove their whole funding contribution, a total of over £215,000 across two years of cuts, to SLT. The impact assessment they presented to the Council stated that as SLT was delivered by NHS Ayrshire and Arran the Council removing its funding would have no impact on the service.
The reality has been very different.
In just one year the cut there has seen a 34% reduction in the number of children receiving direct SLT services in North Ayrshire.
Just to be clear, that’s not a reduction in the number of children who require SLT support, it’s a reduction in the number receiving it.
This reduction has, largely, been a result of the Council’s cut reducing the SLT team in North Ayrshire by 5 FTE staff.
When I asked NHS Ayrshire and Arran about SLT services in North Ayrshire following the Council’s cut they unequivocally stated that there is now an inequity between the service they deliver here and those delivered in the other two Ayrshire local authorities, a real concern as there is a greater demand for such services in North Ayrshire as we are plagued by greater social deprivation and unemployment.
This has all taken place despite the Council providing temporary funding for two SLT staff to help deliver an early year’s project. If this funding was removed, with no fresh investment, then the number of children receiving SLT could drastically fall again.
When the SNP administration presented their budget the Labour Group said that we would hold them to account over it and that’s exactly what we have been doing with SLT.
Following our request the Council’s Scrutiny Committee received a report on SLT services but whilst it posed some difficult questions it didn’t result in fresh investment in SLT.
Rather, with North Ayrshire Council receiving money from the Scottish Government’s Attainment Challenge, I brought the matter back to the Council a few weeks ago arguing that it provides an opportunity to invest in SLT. The SNP administration committed the modest sum of £55,000 which will be spent on a new post to “train” existing staff in SLT. But SL therapists are trained to degree level, are we really to believe that North Ayrshire Council can provide staff “training” with the expectation that our SLT service will be on a par with those who have a fully staffed, specialised SLT team?
Evidence shows that a speech impairment can stop a young person reaching their potential. It often see’s young people fall behind their peers whilst those with such problems are at more risk of bullying at school. SLT is simply a vital service and what we need is a commitment that every child in North Ayrshire who requires SLT support will receive it. That’s not what we have got and until we have the Labour Group will continue to ask difficult questions and campaign for investment.