Cash-flow trouble sparks jobs blow
Sutherland was dealt a double blow this week with the shock news that another two key services are to cease operating in the county because of financial difficulties.
Crossroads Caring Scotland is pulling out of the north Highlands next month whilst the axe is also to fall on the area's Energy Advice Service.
The moves follow the closure, reported in last week’s Northern Times, of the free Alcohol Counselling Services Ross and Sutherland (ACSRS).
Around 30 jobs have been put at risk with 27 staff employed by Crossroads in Sutherland and three by the Energy Advice Service.
Crossroads, a Scotland wide charity, provided a care service on behalf of NHS Highland from its Golspie office to 101 users, who were informed of the closure in a letter from operations director Fiona Henderson.
Staff had been told the week before but had been sworn to secrecy and warned not to inform their vulnerable clients. The withdrawal affects Caithness as well as Sutherland. NHS Highland was told last month
Lairg resident John Laflin (70) looks after his wife Pamela (70), who has Alzheimer’s. He receives three hours respite care from Crossroads a week and was applying for more.
He said: "I certainly did not see this coming. There was no warning, just a letter from head office in Glasgow telling us that the care they provide is ending. These three hours were the only chance I had to do something for myself."
Mr Laflin described the service as "chaotic" at times with a lack of communication to users of any changes to the times of carers’ visits.
Crossroads board chairman Robert Thomson said the closure decision had not been taken lightly.
“The services had been running at a deficit for some time and potentially threatened the financial stability of the wider organisation,” he said.
“Despite trying a number of strategies over recent years to reduce our overheads in Sutherland, including amalgamating three services under one manager, the challenges of recruitment and the distances to cover between visits, has led to the decision to close our services”
He said the service would close in mid-April and it was hoped by then to transfer users to other care providers and to have completed a staff consultation.
NHS Highland said: "We are working closely with Crossroads and other care at home partners to ensure a seamless transition for current service users.
Service users have been contacted via a letter with details of who to contact should they have any concerns or questions."
The award winning Energy Advice Service is run by the Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust (KoSDT) and offers home energy advice across Sutherland.
It was awarded £101,414 to deliver the service from April 2018 to March 2019
But managers were told last Friday that its application to the Climate Challenge Fund for further funding to continue its work had been rejected.
An energy advice spokeswoman said staff had found the decision “astonishing” given the level of fuel poverty that existed in the county.
The spokeswoman said: “We will lose the three members of staff that currently operate the service at the end of the month when their contracts expire and will not be in a position to offer energy advice to Sutherland.”
KoSDT chairman Pete Campbell said: “We feel that the decision will reverse all the good work on fuel poverty and climate change that has been delivered for a number of years.”
East Sutherland and Edderton ward councillor Deirdre Mackay said she had been shocked to hear of the advice service closure and had written to MSP Gail Ross in the hope that something could be done to save it.