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NewPort Council faces legal action over pulling out of service for children with disabilities

Newport City Council has been threatened with legal action over its decision to pull out of a joint service for children with disabilities.

SENCOM is a partnership of councils in south-east Wales that provides services for children with hearing impairments, visual impairments and communication needs.

Newport said in November that it would leave the partnership and run its own service, which it said would give better value, with the 380 service users seeing no break in their support.

The council said it had “exhausted all possible options for change within the current model”.

But law firm Watkins & Gunn has now threatened to take Newport to judicial review on behalf of one child who uses the service, arguing there was inadequate notice of the intention to leave SenCom.

A Newport statement said: “We are confident that the council has acted legally and appropriately throughout this process.

“We have consistently reassured clients that the new Newport provision will be equivalent to that currently provided by the regional service.”

In a second statement the council added: “Newport City Council has a responsibility to deliver the best services to local communities and that includes its pledge to deliver the service provided by SENCOM.

“It is important to restate that the new arrangement will not result in a cut to current service provision.

“Over the last few weeks there has been media coverage which suggests our decision to establish a Newport only service will cause disruption for service users and also destabilise the remaining partnership.

“The council does not understand why a judicial review of the decision to withdraw from the SENCOM service partnership has been called for when there are no proposed changes to the service to be delivered by Newport.”

The authority also said that it understood the priority given to regional working and insisted it remained fully committed to working in partnerships.

“However we have a duty to secure value for money for all Newport council taxpayers and the business case we have developed not only protects the service to current users, it also demonstrates we are able to provide the service in a more cost effective manner.”

Officers from the council had contacted the claimant’s mother offering her reassurances that the support to her grandson would not be affected, Newport added.

Opponents of the change have won support from neighbouring Monmouthshire County Council, which in December unanimously passed a motion backing SENCOM.

This said: “This council strongly disagrees with Newport City Council’s decision to withdraw from the regional SENCOM service and deeply regrets the level of uncertainty it has created around this essential support network.

“Monmouthshire County Council remains firmly committed to this service and will work with all partners to reduce any uncertainty or fears held by staff and parents.”

Mark Smulian