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Guide Dogs propose new local service delivery
and financial breakeven plans

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has unveiled proposals to improve and modernise the delivery of its services to blind and partially sighted people across the United Kingdom.

The proposed changes are also designed to end a ten-year period in which the Association’s expenditure has exceeded its voluntary income, remedying a current annual shortfall of £11 million. This is seen as imperative if the Association is to confidently continue to honour its lifetime commitment to support its 4800 guide dog owners. The new plans therefore seek to ensure that the charity's income and expenditure will balance by the end of 2004.

Unlike many modern charities, Guide Dogs receives no statutory funds or grants and is solely dependent on fundraising, donations and legacies. Forecasts indicate that legacy income will decline in the coming years and, along with many other organisations, Guide Dogs' reserve funds are affected by the ongoing volatility of the stock market.

Guide Dogs is proposing to speed up the replacement of its residential training centres with 31 District Teams – providing locally-based training and support to guide dog owners across the whole of the country.

The charity has already successfully established local District Team offices in Edinburgh, Leeds, Hull, Bristol, Telford and Newcastle and the response from staff and guide dog owners themselves has been very positive.

With guide dog owners increasingly preferring to train from their own homes, occupancy rates at the charity's training centres have dropped to an average of just 11 per cent, making them increasingly uneconomical to run. District Teams, covering about three counties or clusters of boroughs, offer a more flexible choice of guide dog and rehabilitation training, delivered closer to where people live. This also means a reduction in travelling times for training and support staff.

It is now proposed that the residential training centres at Belfast, Cardiff, Larkhall, Liverpool, Maidstone, Nottingham, Sheffield, Southampton and Wokingham will be vacated over the next two years. Additionally, residential training will cease at Leamington Spa, Bolton, Forfar and London, although these centres will remain open to provide the vital initial training of all the Association’s guide dogs.

The proposals are subject to detailed consultation with staff. Up to 150 support jobs are at risk, mainly among catering, maintenance, kennel and administration staff, but the Association is committed to seeking ways of minimising the need for redundancies.

Guide Dogs' Chief Executive, Geraldine Peacock said: "It is imperative that we keep pace with the changing needs of our service users whilst also securing our long-term financial future. The proposals we are now putting forward will enable us to be more flexible in our local service delivery and put our finances on a firm footing.

"By removing much of the Association's fixed overheads, we will be investing in people and services, not bricks and mortar."

In making the changes, Guide Dogs is seeking to continually develop its services whilst delivering good value for money. Each stage of the guide dog process is currently being updated and improved, from the initial breeding policies and practice, through basic training to the matching and training with the guide dog owner.