Fox says Freefield closure would be “disservice” to late councillors

A councillor has defended the Freefield Centre, claiming the loss of its affordable lunch club would be “a disservice” to past councillors instrumental in setting it up.

Billy Fox insisted the potential £80,000 annual saving made by closing Freefield would easily be gleaned from cuts elsewhere in the council instead.

At today’s meeting of the SIC’s social services committee he questioned whether the council was behaving as it should by hanging the centre’s future in the balance.

Mr Fox argued that closing Freefield would result in elderly people who regularly use the centre for its six-days-a-week lunch club having their needs assessed. They may, ultimately, end up relying on meals on wheels, he said.

His comments came as members considered information on a review, which the SIC ordered after stopping short of closing the service in February. Over 1,500 people have signed a petition calling for its retention.

A report before members pointed to the voluntary sector as a valid option to take forward the service.

In an impassioned plea Mr Fox said: “I question whether this £80,000 saving is achievable. I went to the centre last week and there were 43 folk using it. They don’t all have assessed needs.

“If you take that away, and the social interaction, a lot of these people are living alone. We’re going to have these people moving towards assessed needs like meals and wheels.”

Mr Fox dismissed as “entirely spurious” an argument by political leader Gary Robinson that offering the service in Lerwick alone was unfair to potential users in rural areas. He said “a race to the bottom” in terms of equity was wrong.

Mr Fox said: “Are we doing what we are supposed to be doing as a council? As a local authority? This saving doesn’t have to come from social services. This saving can come from elsewhere.”

He pointed to the opening of the centre in 1977 by the chairman of social work Eric Gray and the late Jimmy Paton.

“We are doing councillors who have gone before us a real disservice. Let’s look at doing this differently.”

During the meeting chairman Cecil Smith insisted the committee was seeking viable ways to continue Freefield rather than close it down, even though Allan Wishart highlighted an objective within a supporting document which pointed to considering closure.

Council officials have been meeting people who use the lunch club to discuss how the service might change.

Councillors heard there was an overall support for the Freefield location because of its close proximity to Laing’s the chemist, other shops, a post box, post office and pedestrian crossing.

Among the comments gathered during consultation dismisses other possible locations such as Islesburgh, as access for older people was described as being poor. The Baptist Church at Quoys has also been dismissed by some because of its location.

One suggestion put forward was hiring out the basement for storage which could generate extra income.

Someone else said: “Don’t replace the chief executive and use the money from his post to help keep Freefield open.”

Councillors will learn more about the review in a further report which will come before the committee by Christmas.


Add Your Comment
  • Sandy McMillan

    • August 22nd, 2012 22:25

    Are these Councillors that are sitting deliberating on the elderly, not going to get old, or is there something in the Town Hall water, why start with the vulnerable, take away there lunch club, and by the way it is used for more than a lunch club, it’s a meeting place for the elderly, Disabled, and the Infirm, if the Freefield Centre goes so do our elderly our Stalwarts, folk that made Shetland what it is today, not these 22 Councillors that care for nothing but there own pocket, I believe the lowest Councillors pay packet is between £16.000 and £18.000 per year, reduce there income by £2000=£44.000, Chief Executive by £10.000, Heads of departments and there side kicks by £= ? =£80.000, with some left over, as Shetland Island Council Senior staff are one of the highest or even the highest paid Councils in the country surely they could see there way to a couple of grand kindly gifted from each to help out our elderly, the only way forward for the Freefield Centre is to put a line through it when it comes up in the agenda, forget about it and concentrate on the big money spenders.

  • Ann Longmuir

    • August 24th, 2012 17:50

    Reading the discussion on the future of Freefield I fully agree that the facilities offered are extremely necessary and serve a very useful social purpose. However, I have often wondered why it is that the Shetland Youth have a place to visit at the Market Cross but the elderly have to make their way out to Freefield.

    As us over 60’s are kindly issued with bus passes and that most people have occasion to visit the Town Centre fairly frequently, would is not make more sense to give Freefield to those with young legs and allow the older ones amongst us a place to meet in the centre of town?

    Ann Longmuir


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