Saturday, 21 October 2017

Funding fears for Henley HandyBus

A CHARITY which transports elderly and disabled people could have its funding cut.

A CHARITY which transports elderly and disabled people could have its funding cut.

The Henley and District HandyBus, which celebrated its 30th anniversary with a collection in the town centre on Saturday, receives the majority of its funding from Oxfordshire County Council.

The authority has reduced its supported transport budget by a fifth, a total of £6.3million, but now needs to find at least another £2.6million in savings.

This means looking at supported transport services which it is not required to provide by law.

A public consultation on the proposals and changes to subsidised bus services and Dial-a-Ride has begun and will run until September 14.

Phil Perry, chairman of the Henley HandyBus, said: ?The Handybus has been in operation for 30 years and on Saturday we wanted to remind Henley what a great service it does for the people of the town and to raise a little bit of income.

?We also want to make people aware that the county council is in the process of reviewing and restricting funding for community transport.

?Disabled, elderly and low mobility people will be the ones they wish to protect and here we are with the perfect bus to carry these kinds of people.?

Mr Perry said the charity had to make its case to the county. He said: ?We have to make a submission for why we should be protected and we think we have got a very good story to tell.

?The subsidy from Oxfordshire County Council is the bulk of our income. Without that level of money we can?t run this bus. We would have to seek that money from somewhere else ? goodness knows where.

?We will be making our submission to make sure they understand what our bus is and what we do. We?ll give them data, so they can make their minds up.?

Treasurer Rob Fordham said the charity was concerned that if its council subsidy was cut it would become difficult to replace the bus in years to come as the charity wouldn?t be able to put any money aside.

?The long-term future of the Handybus would put into question,? he said.

On Saturday, the charity?s new bus was parked in Market Place so visitors could take a look. The service was started in 1985 by Henley Lions Club when a bus was bought following a fund-raising campaign.

Now it provides services for organisations including the Henley Stroke Club, the Over-60s Club, the Meteor Club, care homes and others. It also offers a shopping trip to Reading twice a month.

Volunteers raised £423.01 in their collection tins on Saturday and also received a donation of £100.

A public meeting will be held in Henley town hall on Thursday, September 3 at 7pm to discuss the county council?s proposals.

It is considering three options:

Withdrawing all bus subsidies.

Reducing funding to subsidised bus services and adopting the principle of prioritising, where possible, services most likely to be used by the elderly and disabled.

Ending direct funding of the Dial-a-Ride service and encouraging community transport groups across the county to deliver a replacement service.

In its consultation, the council says: ?As far as possible, we are trying to make savings in supported transport by running services more efficiently.

?We have identified that we can achieve nearly £3.7million in savings by bringing together all the supported transport services we operate and fund. However, this is not enough.

?Currently Oxfordshire County Council subsidises more than 100 bus services in the county, which makes up about nine per cent of the bus network. This means that more than nine out of 10 services run without any public subsidy.?

To respond to the consultation, visit https://consultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk

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