DEMANDS for leading councillors to re-think their controversial decision on the future of the Copeland charity Howgill have been withdrawn.

A countywide shake-up of children’s services will see the popular institution stripped of its contract and a London-based charity parachuted in to take over.

But the three councillors who “called in” the original decision – Emma Williamson, Arthur Lamb and Keith Hitchen – have now agreed that the council had followed the “correct and legal process” and that there were “no grounds to revisit” it.

Concerns were raised after the Cabinet agreed on October 17 to award the contract for Child and Family Support Services in Copeland to Family Action.

Speaking at the time, Coun Williamson had said that the new contract-holders would take “a long time to embed into the community”, leaving service-users “really frightened”.

She also said that she was concerned that vulnerable people would “fall through the net”, describing the cabinet’s decision as potentially “catastrophic” for Copeland.

Mike Starkie, the elected mayor of Copeland, predicted this relationship with the public, nurtured over many years, would be “completely shattered” by the awarding of the new contract.

The new management arrangements are supposed to kick-in at the beginning of January, with fears raised over what this change could mean for “ongoing case work”.

However, a clarification meeting was held earlier this week after which councillors agreed that the grounds of this call in “would be unable to be upheld.”

According to the county council, other council members have also accepted that taking the decision to scrutiny management board might lead to “further delays” in the transition between the two providers.

However, it has emerged that the Howgill may be offered a lifeline that would allow it to continue its work in Copeland.

A council spokeswoman said: “It is appreciated that disappointment will be felt by some and as previously stated the council remains committed to working with Howgill.

“Specifically there is a commitment to working with them to explore access to alternative funding streams and helping them to maintain a physical presence in Copeland.

“Officers and the members of the Copeland Children and Young People Partnership will work together with Howgill and the new provider to ensure a smooth transition for everyone concerned.”

“Implementing change like this is always very difficult and there is always room to make improvements. As such the council has also committed to a thorough lessons learned exercise.”

A petition urging councillors to re-think their ruling and safeguard the charity’s role garnered more than 3,000 signatures.

High-level political pressure was brought to bear on the cabinet decision, with Copeland MP Trudy Harrison, and the borough’s Independent elected mayor among those to raise concerns.

Barnardo’s, which held four of the six Cumbrian contracts, has lost all bar one.

Services in Carlisle, Allerdale, Copeland and Barrow are all due to be handed over to London-based Family Action.

Barnardo’s was previously responsible for Allerdale, Carlisle, South Lakes and Eden, but under the new contract arrangements they have been left only with Eden.

Meanwhile, the charity Action for Children, which previously had Barrow, will be offered the South Lakes’ contract.