THE boss of a York community organisation says he fears for the future of learning-disabled adults in York if the city council refuses to increase support payments.

The Blueberry Academy provides job and skills training and supported employment for adults with a learning disability in York.

It can also help place its clients with a network of other local employers.

But the organisation’s director Andrew Cambridge says the city council is refusing to pay a reasonable rate for the service Blueberry offers to adults.

He says Blueberry receives £58.65 a day for every adult with learning disabilities that it supports.

But, because of the intense personal support that is needed, the actual cost to Blueberry is £70, he says.

And he says Blueberry is not the only community group and social enterprise in York that is struggling to cope with council funding that has failed to keep up with inflation.

“I’m worried about the future of people with learning difficulties,” Mr Cambridge said.

Jonathan Walker, who is partially sighted and has had epilepsy since birth, has worked with Blueberry for 14 years.

He spends two days a week at the organisation’s learning centre in Escrick Street, refurbishing items for its shop in Walmgate.

Gazette & Herald: Jonathan Walker with a towel rail made out of a guitar fret at the Blueberry Academy shop in WalmgateJonathan Walker with a towel rail made out of a guitar fret at the Blueberry Academy shop in Walmgate (Image: Stephen Lewis)

The organisation receives £58.65 for each day he is there. He himself then earns some money back from Blueberry for the work he does.

Jonathan, who lives in supported accommodation, said working at Blueberry gave him more independence and confidence.

“I would be gutted if Blueberry had to close,” he said. “I would be thinking ‘what happens now?’

Mr Cambridge said he would keep the organisation going somehow.

But he said the council had to be more reasonable with funding.

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He said he had repeatedly tried to negotiate with council bosses, only for his pleas to fall on deaf ears.

“I know that there are pressures, and I can make things work if they will negotiate,” he said.

“But we are now faced with a situation where (the city council) refuse to change any aspects of the service spec and will only pay people £58.65 for a service that costs £70.

“Other large providers of services in the city are in exactly the same situation.

“If something is not sorted, then I am sure that no services will exist in a short time.”

Gazette & Herald: Jonathan Walker, left, and Andrew Cambridge outside the Blueberry Academy shop in WalmgateJonathan Walker, left, and Andrew Cambridge outside the Blueberry Academy shop in Walmgate (Image: Stephen Lewis)

If established York community organisations did fold, he added, that would only end up costing the council more – as it would then have to find new service providers, at a higher cost.

Sara Storey, the corporate director for adults and integration at City of York Council, said its contract with Blueberry was due to expire on March 31 next year.

“We have been in constant, ongoing dialogue with the provider on the next steps to take going forward,” she said.

“We have offered a number of opportunities for partner organisations to share their views with the council and to disseminate important information and allow for partnership working across multiple providers in the same care category.”

Council bosses voted through savings of £14.3 million in this year’s council budget, in an attempt to start plugging a £40 million black hole in its finances over the next four years.

Among the cuts agreed were proposals to trim to trim a total of £380,000 from council contracts for voluntary organisations in York.