PARENTS of disabled children in Newport have sounded a note of cautious optimism after the city council has backed down over plans to leave a Gwent-wide children’s support service.

On Wednesday, February 13, the South Wales Argus revealed the council’s decision to “defer” leaving the Sensory and Communication Support Unit (SenCom) until March 2020.

Leaving SenCom, which is jointly funded by all five Gwent councils, would have saved Newport £250,000 a year, but since the plan was made public in October last year, parents, charities and politicians have spoken out against it.

On Wednesday, the council backed down, and outlined plans to accept funding from the Welsh Government Local Association (WLGA) to “review the current regional SenCom service and hopefully agree a model that meets everyone’s requirements.”

A letter proposing these plans has been sent by council leader Debbie Wilcox, who is also the leader of the WLGA, to the leaders of the four other Gwent councils.

South Wales Argus:

(Debbie Wilcox - Leader of the WLGA and Newport City Council)

But, reacting to the news, parents of Newport children who use SenCom said that while they were pleased, they were worried this wasn’t the end of the matter.

Amanda Mills, whose 11-year-old son Ben is visually impaired, said the news was very unexpected.

“I just never thought they would actually back down,” said Ms Mills.

“I think the amount of support we had scared them [the council], and they realised the amount of work that would be needed to create an equivalent service.

“I’m pleased for Ben, but I know this time next year we could be in the same position.


“We still need to push on and continue with the way we were going to keep the pressure on.”

Hollie Hiett, whose two-year-old daughter Demi-Rose also has visual needs, agreed that despite the “brilliant” news, she was still worried.

“Although we’ve got a year, we could be facing the same problem in 2020. Deferring doesn’t mean we’ve won.

“If they try it again they need to actually have an equivalent service to SenCom so parents know exactly what their children are going to get.

“It’s been handled terribly.”

The director of Wales Council for the Blind, Owen Williams, who wrote an unanswered letter to Newport council in January outlining their concerns, said he hoped the worries would be considered fully within the forthcoming assessment of the service.

Mr Williams added: “Wales Council of the Blind believes that the regional service model was, and will continue to be, an effective one and provide the best level of support to children with sensory loss across Gwent. We hope that the offer of financial support from WLGA will enable proper consultation this time, so that children and their families can make a meaningful contribution to the design of a specialist service that best meets their needs.”

RNIB Cymru’s Director Ansley Workman said the charity, who also spoke out against the plan, was pleased to see that Newport City Council taking more time to fully consider its services for children with sensory loss.

“But families across Newport who access the current Sencom service and the experienced staff who support them remain in limbo,” added Mr Workman.

“We want to seek reassurance that the council has learnt from its mistakes and that families will be fully engaged in an open and honest conversation about any changes to this service.”


The Welsh Government has welcomed Newport’s decision to stay in SenCom, and added they would be happy to support the WLGA and local authorities in finding a way forward.

This does not include financial support, added a spokesman.

Labour’s Torfaen AM Lynne Neagle, who had spoken out prepeatedly in the Assembley against the withdrawal, said she was “delighted” Newport council had “finally seen sense”.

“I very much hope that lessons can be learned from the handling of this and that future decisions by Newport Council will put the best interests of these vulnerable children first and will only be taken after proper consultation with families,” added Ms Neagle.

“As Torfaen AM, I intend to follow the progress of any review very closely going forward to ensure that the needs of children with a sensory impairment are protected.”

Another critic, Labour’s Blaenau Gwent AM Alun Davies added that he hoped the council would now sit down with the other four local authorities and “work collectively to deliver on their undertakings to put the interests of our children first”.

Mr Davies added: “This has caused unnecessary and unneeded distress for many families. It has disrupted the delivery of the service and has upset many people for no good reason.

“Newport needs to rebuild trust. It needs to be open and transparent and needs to make a clear commitment to the regional delivery of these services. This is now an opportunity to move forward. No-one wants a repeat of the last few months.”

It’s unclear what will happen to the status of 10 SenCom staff who took voluntary redundancy after Newport made their decision. The Argus previously reported that Newport council were liable for their redundancy costs.

A spokesman for Torfaen Council, who run the SenCom service, said: 

A Torfaen council spokesman said: "We welcome Newport’s decision to remain in the SenCom service but we only received the letter at lunchtime on Wednesday so with our partners we will need to see the details of Newport’s proposal and understand how we can maintain the quality and range of services that SenCom provides.

"SenCom is a well-established and much heralded partnership model so the uncertainty of the past few months has been hugely unsettling for families and destabilising for staff, with 10 employees already served redundancy notices from April and some already having interviews elsewhere.

"We believe none of the partners would wish to enter the next financial year with uncertainty still hanging over the future service and we will be seeking reassurances from Newport that will help rebuild trust with staff and service users moving forward."

It’s also unclear what the status of a legal case against the decision is. A hearing had been scheduled for February 25 in Cardiff.