'Doing nothing is not an option': Bucks County Council releases report into the future of Thrift Farm

A report into the future of Thrift Farm, a Bucks County Council owned facility that supports adults with learning difficulties, says that doing nothing is not an option.

Monday, 28th January 2019, 3:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 7:35 pm
Library image of visitors at Thrift Farm

Thrift Farm has been operating as a rural supported employment service for adults with learning difficulties since the early 1980s.

The farm doubles as a visitor attraction as the centre is open to the public and is a popular location for family days out.

A report published by Bucks County Council late in the day on Friday January 25 says 'there are a number of challenges in relation to Thrift Farm including accessibility of the location, health and safety risks and financial viability.'

The council say they have explored a number of possibilities for the future of Thrift Farm and concluded there are three options:

> Do nothing

> Identify an alternative provider or providers to take over the adult social care operations and functions of the farm in a financially viable and sustainable way

> Decommission the adult social care service

According to the council's financial planning the transfer or decommissioning of Thrift Farm could lead to £124,000 of savings.

The Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) identifies Transformation Programme savings of £2,487 for 2019/20, of which £124,000 is linked to Thrift Farm, either through transfer to another service provider or through decommissioning.

They add that 'in the difficult financial climate it is not viable to continue to operate services with overspends.'

Regarding the three options for the future of Thrift Farm the council concludes that 'doing nothing is not a viable option.'

Regarding the second option the council concludes that 'adult social care has not been able to identify any alternative providers that could run the farm sustainably, efficiently and effectively.'

The report concludes that the third option is the most viable saying 'commissioners are of the view that the only viable option is to decommission adult social care services at Thrift Farm.'

The final conclusion from the council is a recommendation to cabinet to 'consult on the future of Thrift Farm, including the decommissioning of the service and to seek views on any other viable and sustainable proposals.'

A decision on the future of Thrift Farm will be made at Bucks County Council's cabinet meeting on Monday February 4 and any decision could be implemented from February 12.

Bucks county councillor John Chilver said: "As the local county councillor for Thrift Farm I will not be supporting any proposal to close this wonderful facility which means so much to users and visitors.

"I will be urging the council to explore every possible way to keep it open."

A petition calling on the council to save Thrift Farm has attracted more than 2,000 signatures.

A spokesman for a campaign group against proposals for any closure of Thrift Farm said: "We are vehemently against any closure of Thrift Farm and hope that this proposal will go to consultation to allow us to put together an alternative business plan to ensure this facility can continue.

"Having analysed the report we feel there is not a lot of new information in there (in relation to what users and their families were told at meetings held ahead of the report's publication).

"The report says the service ran at an overspend of £300,000 - we are asking why has it taken so long for the council to do anything about this?

"It seems to us as though they have allowed the service to run down over many years.

"The report says the council tried to find alternative providers but found their business plans were not viable however they haven't told us why.

"We don't feel the council understands the needs of the service users - they say about alternative locations but people with learning difficulties, and specifically autism, are very set in their ways and like routine.

"We are still going through this report but we will certainly make our feelings known ahead of the cabinet meeting next week."