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Bitter end for Newbury ReadiBus service

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NEWBURY and district’s ReadiBus service is set to end this month, amid bitter recrimination, after nearly 25 years.

The bombshell news comes amid accusations and counter accusations between the charity trustees and West Berkshire Council.

ReadiBus, which helps people with restricted mobility to get out and about independently, has helped users ensure they were still able to access vital medical appointments and food shopping during the coronavirus lockdown.

That lifeline will now come to an end on Friday, April 16.

Trustees have laid the blame at the door of the district council, claiming it refused to release funding unless they signed a “gagging clause” following a series of Newbury Weekly News articles about funding cuts in recent years.

One local client of the service, Janet Bull, said: “The actions of West Berkshire Council are shocking. They clearly don’t care about the elderly and people with mobility issues.”

ReadiBus board chairwoman Sophie Bowlby said: “We’ve had the distressing need to inform residents, who have relied on the ReadiBus service to help retain their independence, of the consequence of West Berkshire Council’s actions.

“The service will no longer be available unless West Berkshire Council reverses its decision to require a gagging clause in any grant agreement and releases the withheld grant funding.”

Trustees also asked: “What is it, specifically, that the council – a publicly accountable body – considers that the public should not know that warrants an insistence on the signing of a gagging clause and the withholding of modest council grant funding to a charity on the basis of it?”

They have also accused the council of discrimination, stating that its officers deemed consultation over prior cuts was unnecessary because clients would have had difficulty in comprehending what was being proposed.

The trustees said in a statement: “Apart from it being deeply patronising to equate people with restricted mobility as having learning difficulties, ReadiBus also contends that considering public consultation to be not needed because of a perception that the cuts affect people who have learning disabilities is discriminatory.”

The council responded in a statement conceding it had made a “difficult decision to reduce our discretionary funding to community transport” in 2019/20.

However, the statement added: “ReadiBus’ share of the grant has reduced because they are delivering less passenger journeys relative to other providers.

“It was made clear to ReadiBus and other community transport operators that any grant funding in excess of £5,000 from April 2020 onwards would be subject to a service level agreement.

“The service level agreement included standard clauses on confidentiality that the council would expect from its service providers.

“These are not gagging clauses – it merely ensures that the service provider notifies the council before any information concerning the agreement is put in the public domain.

“ReadiBus declined to sign the service level agreement (SLA).

“During the last year ReadiBus has delivered significantly less passenger journeys than originally anticipated due to the lockdown – around 2,000 compared to 12,000 in the previous year.

“Despite this and ReadiBus not signing the SLA, the council has paid ReadiBus half of the grant (£6,566.93).

“The council is very keen to work with ReadiBus to... ensure where possible there is continuity of service using other community transport operators.”

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