Church of Scotland care services under threat

THE head of the Kirk’s charity wing has warned it will be forced to consider the future of some care services if local authorities keep cutting funding.
A recruitment crisis has sparked calls for the Kirk to take 'real risks'. Picture: Jane BarlowA recruitment crisis has sparked calls for the Kirk to take 'real risks'. Picture: Jane Barlow
A recruitment crisis has sparked calls for the Kirk to take 'real risks'. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Reverend Syd Graham, convener of the Church of Scotland’s social care council, said it would not run “cheapo” services for councils in the face of falling funding levels.

“Let me make clear that our commitment remains that the social care council and staff refuse to dumb down the quality of our service,” he told the General Assembly in Edinburgh.

“Caring in Christ’s name demands excellence.”

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The Kirk is one of the largest social care providers in Scotland, employing 1,332 staff across a spectrum of services, including care for the elderly, specialist residential units for people with learning difficulties, respite services and community-based care.

Its charitable body, which operates under the name CrossReach, would have to “seriously consider the viability of services” if funding is reduced by local authorities seeking to make cost savings, he added.

CrossReach is concerned that further funding cuts would force it to provide substandard services, something it is not prepared to do.

Peter Bailey, chief executive, said: “If the funding reduces, there are circumstances where we will have to say, ‘would this result in us providing a quality of service below a level we are happy with?’

“And therefore what we are saying is that, if there continues to be cuts in funding, and we understand that local authorities have their own pressures, then we cannot guarantee to be
providing the services.”

CrossReach had an operational deficit of £5.6 million in 2008, which fell to £700,000 in 2011.

It is hoping to break even this year.

Mr Bailey said that the council had been able to cut its deficit, while avoiding service closures, by focusing on efficiency

But he warned that there were limits to what could be done. “You can make yourself efficient, but there’s a point where you have to say, ‘hang on a minute’. If those efficiencies are going to affect our quality then that’s the point where we have to say this is something we’re going to have to consider.”

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Mr Graham said that maintaining a high-quality staff in the current economic climate was hard.

Like many social care providers, the Kirk is facing challenges in maintaining services because of changes in statutory funding.

Coupled with falls in other sources of incomes, in particular the number of bequests, CrossReach’s financial resources are being stretched.

As a result, the body has had to make some difficult decisions in order to continue maintaining its services across Scotland.

One of the most high-profile moves was the announcement of the closure of Perthshire care home, Belmont Castle.

The facility was, CrossReach said, unsustainable on account of dwindling resident numbers – said to be due in part to its remote position, rather than local authority funding problems – and running a loss of more than £150,000 a year, which was

Belmont was, though, unique compared to other elderly care homes, which Mr Bailey said had very good occupancy levels.

A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said: “Demand for services will always outstrip ability to pay for them, but obviously councils will try and protect the most needy and vulnerable in society.”

Gay minister hails ‘milestone’ moment for his church

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THE decision by the Kirk to allow the ordination of openly gay ministers has been described as a “milestone” by

the minister whose appointment sparked the controversy.

The Rev Scott Rennie said that he was “delighted” for gay and lesbian members of the church and that it offered them “the place and the dignity” in the Kirk, but also offered the church as a whole, “peace and unity”.

Mr Rennie’s appointment to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen, in 2009, triggered the crisis when objections were raised by church members on the grounds that he was openly gay.

That year’s General Assembly upheld the congregation’s right to appoint the minister of its choice.

That led to a second debate and vote in 2011, in which commissioners agreed to allow openly gay ministers, appointed prior to the 2009 General Assembly, to remain in their posts, while setting up a theological commission to examine the implications of allowing future ordination of openly gay ministers and report back.

On the back of this report, the Assembly on Monday chose to affirm the Kirk’s traditional stance on human sexuality, but allow congregations who wanted to appoint an openly gay minister in a civil partnership to do so.

In an interview with BBC Radio Scotland yesterday, Mr Rennie said: “There’s no doubt it’s a milestone because it is at last a recognition of the place of gay and lesbian people within the ministry, and there are a number.”

He added that it was important that the motion that was finally accepted was brought forward by former moderator the Very Rev Albert Bogle and Rev Alan Hamilton, both of whom had been on the traditionalist wing of the church, describing it as a sign that the Kirk was committed “to stand together, to work together, to live together”.