A RESPITE centre for some of Inverclyde's most vulnerable could be axed by the council in a desperate bid to save more cash.

Council officers have proposed the closure of the Hillend Centre to cut £200,000 from the budget, with the loss of 16 jobs.

But leading local union Unison today condemned any move to shut the lifeline facility and replace it with cheaper funded places in private care homes.

It is on a hitlist of proposals set to go before elected members as the local authority attempts to reduce a funding gap that runs into the millions.

But council leader Stephen McCabe has hit back at criticism over the proposal - and warned that funding cuts are so severe now that no service is safe.

Unison branch secretary Robin Taggart said: "What the council are proposing to do is to shut down a popular and effective council-run respite facility and force those who use the service to find places in privately run care homes and nursing homes.

"Their rationale is simply that private homes are cheaper to use.

"Putting forward proposals for change solely on the basis of cost, taking no account of quality, standards of care or service users' choices, is extremely crude and regressive.

"Closing the unit would also mean that all respite services locally would be commissioned through providers in the ‘for-profit’ sector.

"The balance of adult social care provision within Inverclyde would tilt towards being wholly privatised.

"The council’s only role would be to hand out contracts every couple of years."

Mr Taggart says this is 'not a position that would be welcomed by most people living in Inverclyde'.

Each year Hillend provides respite to around 1,500 elderly citizens and adults with additional support needs who need round the clock care.

Union bosses fear it is an easy target left out of a public consultation because it would not be considered as a service cut as the council would still be providing the places, but at a cheaper cost.

Mr Taggart added: "The Hillend respite service is a four bedded unit which provides invaluable support for carers and relatives of elderly people and vulnerable adults.

"Unison is concerned that users would choose not to use alternative provision which would place an additional burden on those who care for them.

“Hillend has certain unique qualities when compared to other respite services.

"As a small unit it has an intimate, warm and friendly environment.

"The nature and growth of adult social care, including within the residential sector, is such that a mix of provision is what is needed moving forward. “

Unison say they intend to fight any move to close the unit.

Councillor McCabe says no decision on Hillend had yet been made but warned that painful decisions would have to be made.

He told the Telegraph: “When it comes to fighting for local services we need to be speaking with one voice and supporting the COSLA campaign to increase core council budgets.

"We are on the same side.

“Inverclyde, out of all of Scotland’s mainland councils, relies most on the grant it gets from the Scottish Government to pay for local services.

"Over the past six years that funding has fallen year on year.

"Compared to 2013 we have £104 less to spend on every person in Inverclyde.

“Last year we had to cut services to make up for the shortfall.

"It was the same the year before and the year before that.

"We are now at the point where future cuts are going to be so severe that large scale, essential services will be in the firing line."

Inverclyde Council will meet to set their council tax increase for 2020/21 next month following the Scottish Government's budget announcement on February 6.

The budget will then be put to a meeting of the full council in March.