Review of ARC charges fiasco published

A review of the fiasco sur­rounding the council’s plans to introduce charges for adult resource centres (ARCs) in the region has been branded a “delaying tactic” and a waste of taxpayers’ money by Labour politicians, who claim it vali­dated their findings from six months previously.

An external audit by Price­water­house­Cooper was pre­sented to this week’s Social Work Committee in Dumfries which met to discuss the implications.

The review was called for after the council mistakenly tried to “increase” ARC service charges in March 2011 from £16.50 to £19.80 when there had never been a previous charge and this should have been labelled a “new charge”.

The question then arose as to the legality or otherwise of the local authority not charging for ARC attendance or to implement charging for the service to bring consistency across the whole social work service. This confusion left ARC users and their families “distressed” at the manner the council had tried to bring in the charges.

At a meeting of the full council in June 2012, the local authority decided to suspend the current charging policy and to seek advice from the Equalities Commission, ECHR Scotland and legal counsel.

Leader of the Labour group Ronnie Nicholson said: “This review repeats the claims Labour made more than six months ago. It is simply a list of decisions made by the council on the issue that anyone could have got by reading the minutes and the reports.

“Instead, the Tory/SNP coalition has wasted taxpayers’ money and months with a meaningless review that doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.

“The only conclusion you can make is that this was a tactic by the Tory/SNP coalition to delay as long as possible admitting that the council has no mandate to introduce ARC charges, that councillors were misled and charges were imposed on ARC users by the backdoor. We need a proper inquiry into why information given to councillors was false, and whether or not misleading councillors is now a deliberate policy within this department to push through charges like this. I doubt we will get that from this Tory/SNP coalition, which seems to be accomplices in an attempt to a cover up the scandal of ARC charges.”

Stranraer and North Rhins SNP Councillor Iain Dick, who is a member of the Social Work Services Committee, said on Wednesday: “These claims by the Labour group are complete nonsense. The administration asked for the review some time ago and we will be discussing the implications prior to the meeting.”

Dumfries and Galloway MP Russell Brown added: “I previously said that this department wasn’t fit for purpose and this review simply highlights this fact.

“The shambles over ARC charges is a symptom of the fact that hard-working staff within social work are being let down by a lack of leadership from senior councillors and officials.

“It is simply unbelievable that we have a council that still claims it has a mandate for these charges. If this council is to get any credibility back, it needs to hold up its hands and admit these charges were never properly agreed and should not be imposed. The review was also so restrictive that it failed to even investigate the fact that the department claims people weren’t charged for services, even although it is clear that people were sent bills by the council.”

No ARC users were charged.