COUNCIL chiefs today launched a staunch defence of proposals to axe a number of day centres in Dorset.

Representatives from Dorset County Council defended the decision to push ahead with plans to close centres at Fernhill in Weymouth, Swanage, Beaminster, Crossways and Gillingham.

Councillor Mike Byatt, leader of the council's Labour group, responded by claiming the move showed a total lack of trust in local communities'.

The comments came after confirmation that the council is to receive an extra £3.9 million of funding in its annual settlement from the government.

Coun Byatt said the authority could easily afford to keep the day centres running.

But council supremos claimed that the cuts will save the authority £600,000 a year without limiting the services on offer.

Director for adult community services Steve Pitt said: "There has never been any intention to remove a day service from somebody who needs the service.

"It's more about providing day services as efficiently as we can."

Mr Pitt said that falling attendances at day centres meant it was no longer economically viable to keep all the centres in the county running.

Cabinet member for adult and community services David Crowhurst added that the priority for any extra funds that become available will be used to improve care available for older people in their own homes.

Council leader Angus Campbell said: "To lose money by keeping the entire spread of day centres open, even though there were less and less people going, is not what we would be expected to do with the tax payer's money.

"It will be painful for people who are going to have to go to a different place, but the important thing for us to do is to provide the maximum service for everybody."

The only alteration from the original proposals arising from the consultation process will see the day centre Blandford retained, but purely as an administrative centre' to organise community-based services for people in and around the town.

Chief financial officer Paul Kent said that the extra money from the government settlement is likely to see the council tax rise for next year limited to 4.5 per cent, rather than the 4.9 per cent previously anticipated.

Councillor Byatt said he was outraged that the council leaders have decided to try and push the scheme through after a consultation process that saw over 5,000 people sign petitions against the closures.

He said: "It shows a total lack of respect for local people. I have visited some of the centres and we are talking about some of the most needy and vulnerable people who are dependent on these centres."

South Dorset MP Jim Knight added: "I am firmly against these proposals and I would urge councillors to listen to local people and reject the recommendation when they vote on the issue."