Two items came up at the meeting tonight in which the Council will cease to support community services.
The first is Rugby Rural Link, which was set up to help elderly and disabled people in isolated locations by providing them with a community bus service in to Rugby town centre. It replaced an old ‘token’ system, which allowed people to use taxis to get about. Rugby Rural Link was set up less than a year ago, and so the current Cabinet and majority Tory administration must have backed the plan. It was intended to save £10,000 a year from the Token scheme budget of £23,000 a year.
It’s clearly a failure.
A total of 19 people registered for the new scheme. Of those, only ten have used it since it started in May 2009. The average number of trips (a return journey would count as two trips) is less than one per day. As the Council decided to underwrite any lost revenue from insufficient trips (the target was 3-4000 trips a year). Perhaps one reason for the lack of take-up was the £1 a trip charge. The organisation running the scheme was supposed to provide regular reports on the scheme, but they didn’t arrive, but they don’t appear to have been pressed for any. Some of the flexibility that was supposed to be available (destinations other than Rugby, altering the days that semi-scheduled services were running) did not happen. But the costs to Rugby BC come out at over £2200 a month, which means it exceeds the budget of the previous scheme.
So a new report was commissioned, including a survey of people who used to use the Token scheme. It was pointed out that this survey was not comprehensive, and alternatives were not explored. So the scheme will close down in six months’ time, unless a sudden massive increase in uptake occurs.
This is a failure of the current Tory administration. Luckily for the isolated elderly and disabled people in the rural parts of the Borough, the County Council will take on responsibility for such schemes after 2011, so hopefully Warwickshire can set up a scheme that provides travel to the people who need it, and not at a cost of about £2,500 per user over a year.
The second set of funding that the Council are ending is for the Brownsover Community Information Centre, which was re-opened only 19 months ago. The Rugby Observer had a story about this last week. The centre will still remain open, and the other organisations based there will remain. But the funding for staff will end, and the intention is to treat the building as a ‘Village Hall’ for the future. The blame was put on delays in the setting up of a new Health Centre by the local Primary Care Trust, expected to have been ready by September 2009, but at least a year away and perhaps never arriving. Now the worry is that services could be affected while nothing is done by any local agency to fill the gap.
Brownsover is not a village, and a Village Hall approach may work for a rural community of a few hundred, but not for a large urban estate covering thousands of people. Both Jim Shera (Lab) and Jerry Roodhouse (Lib Dem) spoke against the plans, citing the fact that Brownsover is one of the most deprived areas in the county, that there seemed to have been a lack of consultation, that only one option had been put forward and it might have been better to wait until more was known about the Health Centre, and that one of the justifications – low attendance figures – could have belied work done in outreach (and besides, more people could be helped in a day at Brownsover than would get the Rural Link scheme assistance in some months).
The building will remain open, but without management staff, it may be harder for some of the groups using it to operate. The blame is being put on the recession, but the people affected are also those at most risk of a recession – those living in already deprived areas.
And in the meantime, the Iceland situation is costing the council money. The recent press coverage about the Icelandic President referring the compensation for depositors to a referendum does not affect the investment by Rugby Borough Council in two banks. However, there is some problem – one bank sees councils as a priority creditor and so would likely try to pay all of the investment back, with some lost interest, but the other bank sees them as at the same level as other creditors, meaning that a fractional offer would be made. Lawyers are currently arguing this out in Icelandic courts, but at the very least it looks like Rugby will lose £100,000. If the second bank gets its way (and if that feeds into the legal decision on the first), then it could be into the millions.
So, the Council is down because of investments in Icelandic banks, and the latest sets of cuts affect one of the poorest areas in Rugby, and vulnerable people in rural areas who need help to get access to services. Cheers, ‘compassionate conservatives’!