“STRUGGLING and desperate” families in Somerset could lose vital support after cuts to an early help service were pushed through, it is claimed.

Somerset County Council’s cabinet voted in September to cut the number of staff within the GetSet service as part of plans to save £15m by 2020.

Opposition councillors ‘called in’ the decision and asked the cabinet to push any final decision back to February 2019, after a wider consultation on the future of the service had taken place.

But after hours of deliberation, the cabinet voted against this proposal – meaning that the changes will go ahead as planned.

GetSet was set up in response to Somerset children’s services being rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted, in a bid to improve early intervention (i.e. ensuring that children and families could get the help and support they need at the earliest opportunity).

People who are referred to the service are provided with support specific to their needs, and are referred on to other partners depending on how severe their needs are.

The extent of support people receive is organised into levels, starting at Level 1 (services currently used by everyone, like schools and GPs) and rising to Level 4 (a statutory social care intervention).

The cuts agreed in September – which will deliver an estimate £2m in savings by 2020 – concern Level 2, which caters for children and families who have additional needs, and Level 3, which covers more complex cases.

A separate proposal, also agreed in September, will see a public consultation held later in the year on the future of the entire GetSet service.

At a cabinet meeting held in Taunton on Wednesday morning (October 17), Councillor Leigh Redman – who chairs the council’s children and families scrutiny committee – pleaded with cabinet members to reconsider.

He said: “I hope that the cabinet will understand the impact that this cut could have, and I ask you to consult fully to make an informed decision.”

Around 50 separate questions about the GetSet changes had been submitted to the cabinet ahead of the meeting – many of them by current members of staff, who chose to remain anonymous.

One such staff member wrote: “A reduction in staff means a reduction in service.

“If my caseload increases to 20, there is no way I can deliver groups or parenting course as well. I won’t have time to go to clinics or do anything extra to help families.

“It is inevitable that more responsibility for caseload means more hours spent on that and less on other services.”

Sandra Cole cited the example of a young parent with a six-week-old baby who relied on GetSet to support her.

She said: “This person is a young adult leaving care and has no family network around her.

“She also has learning difficulties, she has a wide range of support, and if GetSet is no longer available there is no other service to pick up what we do.”

Alison Pomeroy, who works in the NHS, said that implementing the cuts would hurt “families that are struggling and desperate”.

She said: “There is no support for families as it is. If you cut GetSet, all that is going to happen is an increase in pressure on every other service.

“You cannot for a minute imagine the pressure and level of crisis that now is prevalent in our Somerset communities.”

Councillor Frances Nicholson, cabinet member for children and families, sought to assure those present that reducing staffing levels would not lead to a drop in the amount or quality of service provision.

She said: “I want to say again this is a very difficult and challenging time. We have had money reduced hugely.

“This council will continue to do what is the statutory role. It will also continue to provide such early help support as impacts on statutory services. What we cannot do is go on underwriting other people’s services.

“The reduction proposed in staff does not take the caseloads beyond which we cannot provide a safe minimum service.

“It will be carefully monitored. As things are, it’s clear that this is something that should happen now and not something that should be put off.

“This is not about removing or reducing services, it is about ensuring we are working with the right children, at the right level, with the right service.”

Julian Wooster, the council’s director of children’s services, added: “With any changes we make in staffing, there is always an associated risk.

“The issue is how we manage demand if that increased – but there is no evidence of demand increasing at this point in time.”

Mr Redman’s proposal to delay any changes to the GetSet service until February 2019 did not find a single supporter within the cabinet. Instead, its members voted unanimously to implement the changes as originally agreed.

Ms Nicholson did not provide an indication as to when the wider consultation on the GetSet service would take place.

She said: “The public consultation will shortly take place on the future of the service. We will engage with all partners, stakeholders, service users and staff on what the impact of these changes would be.”