Plans to hold an eight-week consultation into scrapping a valuable service for adults with learning disabilities were approved by council chiefs yesterday (Monday).
Thrift Farm is a Bucks County Council owned farm in Whaddon that has provided supported employment for dozens of adults with learning disabilities across the county over the past 30 years.
Last week the cash-strapped council announced plans to scrap the service in a bid to slash £124,000 from the adult social care budget.
During a meeting of the cabinet members agreed to hold a public consultation to assess the future of the farm.
John Chilver, the local county councillor whose ward includes Thrift Farm said he was concerned by the plans saying it gives employees “a sense of security, identity and purpose”.
He also questioned whether all options to increase cash income at the farm, or find alternative service providers, have been investigated.
He said: “I have been enormously impressed by the personal testimonies from all the letters and emails that have been sent in about the benefits that Thrift Farm gives them in terms of giving a sense of security, identify and purpose.
“I just want to read one of those letters that says: ‘The farm is unique in its approach to the clients, giving them more self-confidence and self-reliance and they feel they are going to work just like everyone else’.
“In those circumstances I would need to be assured we have done everything we possibly can to keep Thrift Farm open.”
If plans are given the green light, 69 service users who are currently employed at the farm will lose their jobs – however the council says assessments will be carried out to identify alternative placements.
The farm is the latest county council run service that could suffer amid major budget cuts, as it works to slash a total of £2.47 million from adult social care funds.
A cabinet report published last week stated attempts to find an alternative service provider have proved unsuccessful.
However all hope is not lost, as recent publicity over the plans has prompted more people to come forward with alternative options.
Cabinet member for health and wellbeing, Lin Hazell, said she is proposing the plans “with a heavy heart” however there are currently “a number of challenges” with the farm, including health and safety issues.
She said: “We have been looking at every angle to try and keep it going but I won’t beat around the bush, there are financial pressures, and really we have to get our heads round this as to how we move forward.
“I am proposing this with a heavy heart, I would like an organisation to come forward to say they will take over the leasehold to make is a viable and sustainable operation.”
Council leader Martin Tett said he is “very supportive” of keeping the farm open however the county “is facing very difficult financial times” amid cuts to central government funding.
He said: “We are faced with making savings to actually balance our budget and not just in one year, we have got to balance that budget year after year.
“I am very supportive of keeping this facility open if we can.
“It supports a very vulnerable community, including people with learning disabilities in particular and it is also a very well-loved facility in the north of the county in terms of the general population.
“If there is a way we can find, that is viable, to keep this open, my door is open to that.”