Council rapped for books cuts

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Watchdogs have rapped Suffolk County Council for axing subscriptions to an audio books service for blind and visually impaired people.

The Local Government Ombudsman found a series of faults in the way the authority decided to cancel the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) service to 250 users.

It follows a complaint by the RNIB on behalf of seven people who lost out on the audio books, which cost £82 for an annual subscription.

The council decided to withdraw the service to anyone who used it to hire less than 20 books but has since agreed to contact the 250 people affected and review the decision.

Ombudsman Dr Jane Martin said the council ‘did not properly consider the likely impact on disabled service users’ and ‘failed to carry out individual consultation or assess the impact on individual users’.

She said: “They will rightly feel aggrieved that they have lost out on an opportunity to influence a decision affecting them and to have a say in what and how services are provided to them.”

A spokeswoman for the West Suffolk Blind Association, based in Bury St Edmunds, said many members were affected by the council’s decision.

She said: “A lot of them especially the elderly were absolutely devastated. A lot of our members just had to give it up which is such a shame. If you imagine you’re blind and sometimes deaf or very hard of hearing your life is very small. One of the ladies is 94 and it really was a big blow to her.”

A spokesman for the county council said: “As the Ombudsman has made clear, we have acknowledged the findings and agreed to implement all the recommendations.

“We have already updated our training for staff - which includes providing further training on our equality duties.”