- Despite Liberal Democrat scare tactics, alternative provision is available for those eligible for Community Transport
- Inaccurate claims by opposition groups seeking to score political points rather than reassure vulnerable residents
Changes to community transport service provision in West Berkshire
Community transport is about providing flexible and accessible community-led solutions in response to unmet local transport needs. The Conservative Administration has committed to provide annual grants to assist operators with their total community transport provision in West Berkshire.
In 2018, following reductions in Government grant funding for transport, West Berkshire Council held a consultation with its service operators. As a result, a decision was made to develop a new formula based model for funding in the 2019/20 budget so that all providers were treated equally. The new model resulted in a reduction in ReadiBus funding, but ReadiBus did not withdraw from their agreement.
It is important to note that there was no reduction in this budget in 2020/21, nor is there in 2021/22 – indeed, for the next two years the administration has committed to a £50,000 capital fund each year to provide continued support to their providers.
Since April 2020 all Community Transport operators – not just ReadiBus - receiving grants in excess of £5,000 have been required to sign a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to ensure that our residents receive the right level of service. Each SLA requires the group in question to ‘use the grant for the sole purpose of providing Community Transport Services for the benefit of West Berkshire residents’ – hardly controversial!.
The SLA also contains a clause ensuring that the Council is notified by an operator of any proposed press releases or statements relating to transport services in the district before they are issued. This is to ensure that the Council is aware of any issues that it may need to address as part of its duties (and allows the Council to promote such statements). The clause does not restrict the operator from making a statement and, importantly, SLAs containing the clause have been signed by all other operators.
ReadiBus recently informed the Council that services to Newbury and Thatcham will no longer be offered by them. West Berkshire Council did not stop this service.
Liberal Democrat false statements
Claims from opposition Leader Cllr Lee Dillon on his website:
- Claim - there was a “68% cut in funding without consultation”.
False - all Community Transport Operators were consulted on the proposed funding remodelling resulting from reduced Government grant funding.
- Claim – that “ReadiBus has continued to provide transport to users in West Berkshire despite not being paid for its services”.
False – Despite not having signed the necessary service level agreement, ReadiBus were provided with 50% of their grant monies in good faith whilst the Council awaited their signature.
- Claim - that in 2020/21 “25,000 journeys were made”.
False – between 2,000 and 2,500 took place via ReadiBus.
- Claim - that “West Berkshire introduced the ‘gagging clause’ to the SLA for 2020/21 which would have prevented ReadiBus from making any public statements on any matter relating to West Berkshire Council”.
False – the clause does not ‘gag’ ReadiBus (or any of the other providers that have signed it) from making statements – it simply ensures that the Council is aware of any statement proposed.
The Conservative Administration remains grateful to ReadiBus, and indeed all operators of community transport services, for the services they have provided.
Community transport groups continuing to operate in Newbury and Thatcham will include the Thatcham Volunteer Bureau, the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire (which operates a Handybus and a car scheme within Newbury plus Shopmobility
The Executive Portfolio Holder for Transport, Cllr Richard Somner, said:
“We are astounded that the benefits and security of a contracted partnership are not valued by opposition Members.
“The Conservative Administration have a sound track record of careful financial management and this includes ensuring that Council Taxpayers’ money is spent carefully and within the terms and conditions that are agreed as the prerequisite for receiving such money.
“Opposition Parties appear keener on grabbing headlines, making ludicrous allegations to mislead residents, and scaremongering by disregarding the communications provided to them both internally from the service and externally by the Council - communications that have given information to all residents of alternative solutions via established and experienced service operators, but which the Liberal Democrats choose to ignore”.