DOMESTIC violence charities and opposition councillors were dismayed when pleas to stop the number of ‘safe havens’ being cut and keep three refuges open failed.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) plans to replace the refuges with a single hub.
The number of refuge places available is being halved.
Labour councillors argued the cuts – which will save about £55,000 – could put women and children fleeing domestic violence in danger and urged the Tory-run council to reconsider.
CWaC claim the changes will provide improved support, better accommodation and cater for a wider range of families.
Refuges in Chester, Ellesmere Port and Northwich would close and new caps will be brought in limiting the accommodation available to domestic violence victims from outside West Cheshire.
Labour ‘called in’ the decision and the safeguarding scrutiny committee spent four hours debating the plans.
Refuge providers, public health experts, domestic abuse victims and councillors all spoke, with Chester Women’s Aid and Phoenix Domestic Abuse and Support Services among those joining the debate.
Although the committee agreed any future changes involving vulnerable people would go before members, no specific recommendations were made on the domestic violence changes.
Cllr Louise Gittins, who has been leading the battle against the cuts, said afterwards: “Labour, along with the experts in the field, believe cutting the refuge provision by almost half will put women and children’s lives at risk.
“We’re bitterly disappointed that after a gruelling four-hour meeting, the safeguarding scrutiny committee saw fit to do nothing except to ‘monitor’ the situation.
“We applaud innovations that aim to reduce offending and allow people to feel safe in their own homes. Being safe is a fundamental human right.
“But this Tory council has made a huge error of judgement. It could cost women and children their lives.”
Labour are unhappy that Cllr Margaret Parker, chair of the safeguarding scrutiny committee, refused to allow members to question the witnesses and rejected calls for a private meeting where survivors of domestic abuse could speak and be questioned.
Labour leader Justin Madders said: “The discourtesy shown for the professionals who deal with victims of domestic abuse day in, day out was embarrassing.
“The refusal to allow a private session was an appalling decision that has left victims who wanted to describe their experience without a voice.
“The meeting was a charade. We left feeling there was no chance the original decision was going to be changed.
“This council’s contempt for vulnerable people is only matched by their contempt for the democratic process.”
During the meeting, Cllr Lynda Jones, executive member for commissioning, gave reports to the committee about the progress of the new scheme.
She said: “I believe the new domestic abuse accommodation service will be a significant improvement for victims and for their children.
“The re-focusing of the service will fine-tune help on offer and the accommodation will be much improved.
“I also believe that it is very important that the safeguarding scrutiny committee receives regular updates about how the new contract is commissioned and its progress with delivering improved outcomes for survivors of domestic abuse.”
Cllr Parker said after the meeting: “The new domestic abuse service was discussed in detail during the four hour meeting.
“I welcome the offer by Cllr Jones that regular updates on the progress of the new service, will be sent to the scrutiny committee.
“And from now on there will also be pre-decision scrutiny on any future recommissioning domestic abuse and any service for vulnerable people – that goes to the heart of the agenda for the safeguarding scrutiny committee.”