Fears for the future of Northamptonshire's respite centres prompts 14,000-strong petition
More than 14,000 people have now signed a petition calling on the county council to protect children with special educational needs and disabilities as a Â£70 million cut looms.
Users of respite centres across the county, such as the John Greenwood Shipman Centre in Northampton, feared the vital facilities would shut down in March when Nene and Corby Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) reduced their share of funding towards them by 32 per cent.
In May, the county council and the CCGs then made a deal to fund the short breaks services, run by Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT), for a further year, much to the relief of the service users.
The services allow parents of children with complex needs to ‘recharge their batteries’ in the knowledge their child is in a safe environment.
But a petition started early in 2018 to save the centres has had a second surge in light of the recent county council cash crisis.
It has now gathered 14,051 names, more than double than it had back in March.
Labour's parliamentary candidate for Northampton North, Sally Keeble, who set up the petition, said that with more cuts around the corner - there are real concerns the respite centres are once again in the firing line.
"People are concerned they will lose their respite services," she said.
"Families that have children with complex needs do heroic work to look after their children.
"These centres are just about the only thing that helps them to keep it all together.
"If they take the respite centres away the pressures on the family will be just unbearable."
Mrs Keeble said people in the county are desperate to now where the axe will fall in the Â£70 million round of cuts the council needs to make to balance its books this year.
Recent meetings have only discussed what services the council will prioritise over the coming year - but there have been no firm decisions made on cuts.
It is known that the council will be holding a full review of all the contracts it holds with third-party providers to balance the books.
"People still haven't seen the figures and it is causing a lot of anxiety," Mrs Keeble added.
"It is all very well the council saying there will be all these cuts, but where is the meat on the bone?"