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EDITIONS
Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Guide dog centres to close
Guide Dog generic
Teams will be set up to train dog owners in their homes
About 150 jobs could be lost after the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association announced it is closing its 15 residential training centres.

The move comes after the charity lost 20m due to falls in the stock market - but the association said the closures were not caused by the financial losses.

Each centre will be replaced by district teams, which will help visually-impaired people with their dogs in their own homes.

However, the association said the reorganisation would make its business more secure.

Annual losses

"It is imperative that we keep pace with the changing needs of our service users whilst also securing our long-term financial future," said chief executive Geraldine Peacock.

"The proposals 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."

The charity has admitted losses of 20m on its stocks portfolio and overspending by 16m last year.

But a spokesman said: "We would have made these changes anyway, they are not the result of losses.

"Although they do save money the changes are not money driven but taken so we can help more people in their own homes."

The redundancies are expected to be among domestic cleaning, catering, administration, maintenance and kennel staff at the training centres.

Home service

Visually-impaired people booked in to the centres for three weeks to become familiar with their new dogs.

But many users of the service told the charity they would prefer to be trained with their animals in their own home.

Occupancy rates at the centres dropped to about 11% this year.

Centres in Middlesbrough and Exeter were closed earlier this year and replaced by district teams in Hull, Leeds, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

The Middlesbrough centre alone cost 1 million a year to run but catered for only about 100 users a year, an average cost of 10,000 per person.

It is now proposed that the residential training centres at Belfast, Cardiff, Larkhall, Liverpool, Maidstone, Nottingham, Sheffield, Southampton and Wokingham will be phased out over the next two years.

Residential training will cease at Leamington Spa, Bolton, Forfar and London, but these centres will remain open to provide initial training for all the association's guide dogs.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association can't afford to keep any of its residential centres open"
See also:

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07 Mar 02 | Business
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