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November 18, 2009

Protest wins local project time

With the impending cuts in public spending coupled with the removal of ring fenced funding for third sector groups, we can all anticipate a tough time ahead.  Communities are going to have to mobilise support for those projects they value the most. A project in Angus is being threatened with closure because of Council spending plans. The show of support they were able to muster may have saved the day.

An Arbroath mental health charity, facing financial meltdown and the risk of closing its doors when Angus Council was set to dispense with its services, has been granted a temporary, if uncertain, reprieve.

Angus Mental Health Association (AMHA) has for several years had a service provision agreement with the local authority, for which it received a six-figure funding package.

That agreement was jeopardised when it was revealed that, due to a new tendering process, its application was not considered sufficient for further consideration.

A report on the matter was to be discussed at a meeting of the Social Work and Health Committee in Forfar but, in an unopposed motion by convener Councillor Alison Andrews, the matter has been deferred to the next meeting of the full council.
Around 50 demonstrators—including service users, their relatives, staff and volunteers from AMHA—had gathered outside the council chambers, where they appealed for public support and welcomed committee members with placards.

Cllr Middleton handed over a petition bearing the names of 700 people offering their support to the AMHA and said this represented less than half of the signatures collected over the past few days since the threat to the organisation’s future first emerged.

After the meeting, AMHA chairman Ron Scrimgeour said, “Deferring the decision to the full council meeting was actually no more than a neat political paso doble by the committee and I don’t see it materially affecting the eventual outcome.
“There were looks of what I can only describe as horror and disbelief that 50 people—most of them mental health service users—turned up to show their disapproval for what is happening.

“The lack of preparation and less than welcoming reception they received is something I will address in due course.
“The much-stated mantra of localism, volunteering and partnership is under threat here and unless the public know what is going on…the tendering and procurement process will ruin many organisations providing first-class service to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.”

Of the protest itself, he added, “I hope those both inside and outside the council chamber realise they were witness to a significant landmark event.

“These are people who have never protested about anything in their lives but turned up…and set aside their right to anonymity and privacy to make their feelings known.

“It is easy nowadays to say you’ve survived a stroke or cancer and call for greater support but, given the huge stigma that is unfortunately still attached to mental health issues, it took great courage for them to stand in a public street and say ‘I have mental health problems—support me.’