Council chiefs will controversially take over autism care in Moray following the failure of talks with Scottish Autism.
The authority said it had no option but to make the change after it was unable to reach an agreement with the national charity over funding.
There had been uncertainty for weeks over the future of autism services across the region, including residential care centres in Elgin and Lossiemouth.
Scottish Autism had threatened to pull out of Moray unless it received money it believed it was due from the council to cover pension and national insurance payments for staff.
And as final negotiations yesterday came to nothing, Moray Council announced it was assuming management of the service.
A spokeswoman said the council was “experienced” in providing such services and promised both a smooth transition and continued quality care.
But that prompted a scathing rebuttal from Scottish Autism, which accused the council of failing to take autism services seriously and of prioritising cost cutting over care.
It also called into serious question the council’s competence to provide autism care, claiming chiefs are risking the quality of life of the region’s young people.
Services will nonetheless transfer to the council on June 20, with a pledge that current staff and care locations will be retained.
Moray Council said yesterday: “Following further discussion with Scottish Autism, we were unable to mutually agree the funding arrangement for the service in Moray.
“Having explored all options it has been agreed that the best way forward is for the council to take over the management of this service.
“We are experienced at running similar services and this will ensure continuity for the young people involved.”
The council said it would “endeavour to work in a constructive manner” with Scottish Autism to ensure a smooth and successful transfer of service and said it expected to be able to deliver the service within existing budgets.
Though it had threatened to withdraw from providing services, Scottish Autism yesterday made it clear its hope had been to secure a compromise.
A spokeswoman said the charity “deeply regretted” Moray Council’s decision to take the service in-house.
“It is Scottish Autism’s opinion that this is a decision based entirely on cost, with little thought to the welfare of the service users concerned.
“The Council makes reference to “running similar services but it was an inability to address the needs of such complex individuals six years ago that led to the engagement of Scottish Autism in the first place.
“Scottish Autism does not believe that Moray Council has ever taken this issue seriously, apparently only examining the cost implications after eight months of delay, when the issue became public.
“We consider it likely that the quality of life for the service users concerned will be adversely affected.”
The charity said its priority remained the welfare of autistic individuals and supporting their families and it would “cooperate fully in effecting as smooth a transition as possible”.
One service user’s family said: “We are quite disappointed by what has happened. Scottish Autism has been excellent.”
Mixed response to changes
The council’s decision to assume control of autism services drew a mixed response from the region’s politicians.
It was described as “a bitter blow” to the people of Moray by Conservative MP Douglas Ross, who said individuals and families would feel “badly let down” by Moray Council.
SNP councillors and MSPs, however, said it was “disappointing” that Scottish Autism had “chosen to withdraw from providing services” and praised the council for stepping-in.
Mr Ross said: “It is deeply worrying that Scottish Autism tried to engage with officials of Moray Council for several months and received inadequate responses.
“Ultimately, this decision is a bitter blow to the many people in Moray who contacted me about the threat of Scottish Autism removing their service from the area.
“I am keen to work with Scottish Autism staff locally and individuals and families affected by this decision.
“I feel they have been badly let down by Moray Council.”
SNP MSP for Moray Richard Lochhead, however, said: “Clearly the uncertainty of the past few weeks has been unsettling for families in Moray who have been concerned about the future of autism services for their children.
“There will undoubtedly still be some concern about Scottish Autism’s decision to withdraw.
“However I am pleased that the council are committed to continuing the service in-house, including the transfer of existing staff.”