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Newbury users of West Berkshire Council's ReadiBus service share anger and despair

DESPERATE users of Newbury and district’s doomed ReadiBus service have told of their despair.

Last week the our sister publication the Newbury Weekly News revealed how the charity has said it was being forced to stop from Friday, April 9.

Trustees have blamed the district council, claiming it refused to release funding unless they signed a “gagging clause” following a series of NWN articles about funding cuts in recent years.

The council says one-way confidentiality stipulation is routine: “It was made clear to ReadiBus... that any grant funding in excess of £5,000 from April 2020 onwards would be subject to a service level agreement.”

Jennifer Balfour, age 80, said: “I used to get the bus to the GP surgery. Now I’ve got no transport at all. I live on the Nightingales estate and there’s no bus service close enough – I’m disabled and can’t walk very far.

“It was such a friendly service; the drivers were lovely. I used to meet all my friends on there. I used it for trips to the hospital, doctor and dentist, as well as shopping. I’m desperate and I know others who feel the same way.”

Mrs Balfour praised district councillor Billy Drummond (Lib Dem, Newbury Greenham) who had taken it upon himself to drive her free of charge to important appointments after the service was cancelled.

Several readers on Newburytoday described a ReadiBus trip as “the highlight of the week” for relatives or neighbours, while others were astonished at the district council’s one-way confidentiality agreement.

Another pointed out: “[The service] also takes disabled children to school.

“It’s not just the elderly affected, but children too. Massive lifeline for a lot of people.”

Phil Barnett (Lib Dem, Newbury Greenham) said: “I’ve been inundated with calls from irate, local ReadiBus clients.

“There’s lots of people affected. I actually helped to launch it in the town back in the 1990s when I was [Newbury] mayor.

“It was ideal because it was a fixed rate, rather than taxi rates. It generated a camaraderie between neighbours and people who wouldn’t normally meet each other. It’s very sad.”

West Berkshire Council has said in a statement that it had made a “difficult decision to reduce our discretionary funding to community transport” in 2019/20. The council is “very keen to work with ReadiBus to... ensure where possible there is continuity of service using other community transport operators.”

The district council said available alternatives include Thatcham Volunteer Bureau’s car scheme, the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire’s Handybus and car scheme and Shopmobility.

More details can be found at https://info.westberks.gov.uk/communitytransport or by calling (01635) 519394.

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