CARERS and families have voiced their concerns over plans to re-structure how people with learning disabilities are looked after in Somerset.

About 150 people attended Somerset County Council’s scrutiny committee meeting on Friday where councillors debated the future of services, along with children’s centres, sheltered housing and youth provision.

Somerset Advocacy, which represents people with learning disabilities, called for councillors to ensure that carers, users and staff at care homes were involved in any changes made to services.

The committee recommended learning disability services should be made into a social enterprise partnership, which Somerset Advocacy backed as long as it could be involved in planning them.

Cllr Jane Lock said: “We need to make sure the service sets us up for the future and gives the best possible chance for the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Cabinet member Cllr David Huxtable told the committee and members of the public that the aim was to protect services and sympathised with those affected.

He said: “We are having to take more risks but we have to mitigate that as best we can.”

Cllr Simon Coles added: “Early intervention is the way to cut the costs in future – instead of these Draconian cuts we should stop the cuts now and put more money in youth provision.”

Cllr Francis Nicholson defended the council’s position on children’s centres amid ongoing talks to strip 18 of the county’s 41 centres of their official children’s centre title.

She said: “De-designate does not mean closure – it just means a different administrative arrangement to services and 30 full-time staff will be created.

“We are a county with large rural areas and, in one case, 64 people used a centre in 12 months, so to keep the building open all week, which may only be used by one person, is nonsense.

“The centres may stay open or be used by a nearby school but they will probably be on a smaller number of days a week – rurality has been taken into account.”

Cllr Justine Baker, shadow cabinet member for children and families, said she was worried the number of administration staff would be cut.

She said: “The administration staff are frontline for security and if that really goes then a social worker will have to do that job instead. It could be catastrophic for some of the centres.”

The council plans to cut £3.6million over the next three years from home care, residential care and nursing care as part of £18million of cuts from the whole budget in its medium-term financial plan.

About half the 3,800 households the council supports in sheltered housing could lose out under plans to save £500,000. The budget decision will be made at a full council on February 19.