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Rely on volunteers for lifts, OAPs told
PENSIONERS should in future rely more on volunteer-run transport and use council services as a “safety net”, council bosses have said.
Oxfordshire County Council wants more Big Society schemes to take over as taxpayer-funded services are cut.
The Conservative-run council is to spend a £514,000 Government grant to help volunteers and charities set up car and minibus schemes.
The council last year stopped providing transport to eligible new day centre users.
For those that still use it, the price could increase from 82p a day to £5, saving the council £2.1m.
And the Dial-a-Ride service was cut back this month after most of Oxfordshire’s other councils refused to keep funding it.
A council report said community schemes provided excellent value for money because they were not-for-profit and used volunteers.
It said a “relatively small” investment” could provide a very high level of return to meet growing demand from an ageing population.
These should be used “wherever possible” but the report said county-subsidised buses and dial-a-ride would remain as a safety net.
Gwynneth Pedler, of disability group Oxfordshire Unlimited, said the cash should be used to keep Dial-a-Ride services running.
She said: “You cannot get volunteers. Anyone that is interested in the Big Society is already involved. It should be used to prop up Dial-a-Ride.”
But Tory transport cabinet member Rodney Rose said: “We could blow it all on minibuses for two years and end up with nothing at all.
“If we can get these groups off the ground, it is a win-win for everybody.”
Until this month, between nine and 11 Dial-a-Ride buses operated in the county each day but this has been cut to between five and six.
There are 13 minibus and 60 county volunteer car schemes, not including Dial-a-Ride, to which the council contributes £50,558.
Labour group leader Liz Brighouse said: “For some things, people shouldn’t have to expect to rely on volunteers.
“It takes away peoples’ dignity when they know they are having to rely on someone’s good will.”
Barton Community Association secretary Sue Holden, who runs a minibus, said: “I think the biggest hurdle will be finding the volunteer drivers.”
The council is also expected to give £1,900 Big Society cash to a Wantage scheme run by the Independent Advice Centre (IAC).
This takes OAPs to day centres for a maximum £4.50 a trip.
A county report said: “This is exactly the type of community transport scheme we wish to see develop around the county.”
Joint IAC operations manager Lisa Benge said: “There are people who would like to go to a day centre and will struggle if we can’t help them.”
The council’s cabinet is expected to approve the spending today.
It has to cut £119m over four years from its £1bn-a-year budget.