HUNDREDS of people turned out to take part in a silent protest against the changes to Somerset's learning disability services.

The protest took place outside County Hall in Taunton ahead of a meeting on Wednesday morning where a recommendation from the Scrutiny for Policies, Adults and Health and People Committee had been put forward to defer the start of the new contract.

Somerset County Gazette:

The new contract, which is due to start on April 1, with Dimensions Social Enterprise, has caused uproar among the carers and service users over the uncertainty they now face regarding terms and conditions, pay, and the impending closure of day services.

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Hazel Prior Sankey, chairman of the committee, said: "The committee wish to refer this back to cabinet to ask for a delay of the implementation of this transfer until after the May election and to urgently review the original decision.

"This would allow for meaningful consultation to take place."

Demonstrators gathered outside the meeting and stayed their throughout, placing signs in the windows that read "guilty of caring" and chanting the same thing.

Somerset County Gazette:

Oliver James and Natalie James at the protest in Taunton. 

Oliver James is a support worker and his sister Natalie uses the learning disabilities services.

He said: "This is about future proofing the service.

"Loads of us are here today to help protect the service.

"The council need to consider the contract in order to protect the staff.

"Month by month, even day by day, I see the progress that my sister makes with her carers.

Natalie James, who uses the service, said: "My carers are really nice, I would be really sad if I couldn't get to see them everyday. I wouldn't want to see different people every day."

RELATED: "Council to reconsider Learning Disability Services contract in cabinet meeting

Under the new contract, fears that day services could close have surfaced, as cabinet members believe some of the centres are run down.

Somerset County Gazette:

Julia Downing and Gillian Lord at the protest.

Among the passionate protesters was Julie Downing and Gillian Lord, 48, who uses to the day services to give her mum Pat some well needed rest.

Miss Downing said: "Gillian attends the day service, which is now at risk.

"Her 71-year-old mother cares for her throughout the night, how would she be able to cope if she had to look after her in the day, too?

"Gillian gets to see her friends at the centre, everything stays the same and she has routine.

"She has some behavioural issues, which means she has to have two people with her if she goes out. She needs a high level of care to maintain her quality of life."

Sharon Meggitt-Grant, Gillian's aunt, said: "A lot of parents wouldn't cope without day services. It's not fair. They need somewhere to go."

Cabinet members had to consider whether to not to agree with the scrutiny committee's recommendations.

Stephen Chandler, director of Adult Social Care Services for the council set out his own recommendations not to delay the contract.

The members voted unanimously to agreed with him and keep the contract start date as April 1.

John Osman, leader of Somerset County Council, said: "It would be socially, morally and financially unacceptable to delay the contract.

"It would further the uncertainty for staff members and service users. It would be the wrong thing to do.

"The recommendation from scrutiny was well-meaning but it didn't have the legal or financial advice. They didn't look into the 2014 or 2016 papers."