Community transport budget scaled back amidst warning from some operators that they won't survive
Community transport operators in some parts of Lancashire will have to 'revisit their business plans' to deal with a reduction in funding, the leader of Lancashire County Council has said.
Geoff Driver was speaking at a meeting of the authority’s cabinet which approved a budget cut of Â£175,000 to the service, following a recent public consultation.
Door-to-door transport for vulnerable and isolated residents in Lancashire is provided by different operators depending on where users live.
Most of the county is covered by the council’s in-house Travelcare service. But in five districts - Preston, Chorley, South Ribble, Ribble Valley and West Lancashire - community transport is provided by a group of independent operators contracted by Lancashire County Council, under the umbrella of the Community Transport Consortium (CTC).
While county hall’s Travelcare operation is expected to be able to maintain a similar level of service in spite of the cut, many of the companies who make up the CTC claim they may no longer be viable as a result of the reduction.
County Cllr Driver said: “It’s absolutely vital, not just in the present circumstances, that the [CTC] organisations look at their business plan to see if they can operate in a much more efficient and effective way.
“One of the big things to come out of the consultation is that many of the users said that they were quite prepared to see an increase in the price [they pay for] the transport,” he added.
Just over half of users who responded to the consultation said a “modest” fare rise was better than losing the facility altogether. Out of just over a thousand responses, two thirds of people said they used community transport for shopping and more than a third said some places would become inaccessible to them if the service were reduced.
The combined Travelcare and CTC service has over 6,200 users who made more than 166,000 journeys during 2016/17. Community transport users are usually frail or disabled and would find travel on conventional public transport difficult. The service can also be used by those living in areas where there is no public transport provision.
According to a report presented to cabinet members, community transport “plays a major role in promoting good health and wellbeing, reducing loneliness and isolation and helping people access important services”.
The CTC operators also use 160 volunteers to support its community car scheme, which can be booked by individual residents for transport to appointments.
The CTC has been unable to tell the council what level of service it will be able to provide after the cut takes it effect, but operators have said that they have little ability to reduce their costs. Their contract with county hall has been extended until the end of the year while the future "requirements of the service" are reviewed, members were told. That means the planned savings will be realised later than expected.
In a statement after the meeting, County Cllr Keith Iddon, cabinet member for Highways and Transport, said: "As a council we have to make some very difficult decisions to balance the books and make savings in almost every area of the council's work. "I would like to thank everyone who took the time to let us know how they use these services, and how they may be affected by any changes. "Following this decision we will look to minimise the impact of this budget reduction as much as possible for those who use community transport," he added.
Lancashire County Council is responsible for community transport in all parts of the county except the standalone council areas of Blackpool and Blackburn with Darwen.