WELL, what an about-turn! Until Monday, Wiltshire Council was planning to axe funding for 12 community friendship clubs for disabled people, giving them just three months’ notice.

Whose bright idea was that, I wonder?

Suddenly, it changed its mind. Funnily enough, on the very day that I and my Journal colleagues started to ask awkward questions.

That’s when we were alerted to the plight of one of these clubs, based in Amesbury. The Redworth Club runs regular social evenings and special events such as discos, a summer barbecue and a Christmas meal for people aged 18-plus who have mental or physical disabilities or are recovering from mental illness.

It beggars belief that in giving the club’s organisers 12 weeks’ notice before turning off the financial tap, council bosses ever seriously considered whether these folk could secure enough money from other sources to keep going.

Initially, Wiltshire’s PR machine explained whilst they wouldn’t be getting any actual cash, the clubs involved had been “offered the opportunity to develop and influence the council’s vision of delivering these services in the future, and work with council commissioners in a spirit of co-production”.

I present this to you as a wonderful example of patronising public sector gobbledegook.

Now cabinet member Jerry Wickham has announced that “more detailed dialogue” is needed to give the council “a better understanding of the issues”. He’s also said sorry for the upset that was caused. The apology was appropriate and, I’m sure, welcome.

Yet it didn’t need to have come to this.

Wessex Community Action, the invaluable ‘umbrella body’ that exists to provide help and infrastructure to small voluntary and community projects such as the Redworth Club, said no effort had been made to involve it in planning for the club’s future.

WCA spoke to some of the other groups affected and found that they, too, had not even been consulted.

For a voluntary organisation to move to financial self-sufficiency “requires skills, capacity-building plus time and resources”, it rightly pointed out.

Isn’t it time for us to be told when this constant drive to cut public services, whatever the human cost, might stop? At what point, if any, will austerity be deemed to have achieved its aim?

If the only money-saving options left are to hit the most vulnerable, isn’t our entire system broken? And shouldn’t we be having a national conversation about whether it’s capable of being mended?

In the meantime, can we justify continuing to offer attendance allowances to any councillors who don’t have to actually forfeit wages or pay for childcare in order to carry out their civic duties?

This whole sorry business is obviously driven by reduced funding from a government which, after nine years, ought to be able to do more than blame its predecessors.

Some councils are handling the situation better than others and just about keeping their heads above water, but they’re all heading sooner or later for the same boat, i.e. HMS Stony Broke.

And when everyone’s clambered aboard and it’s sinking under their weight? Of course they’ll chuck the weakest over the side.