Friday, 19 April 2019

Charity’s decision on new minibus postponed

THE Fish volunteer centre in Sonning Common has put off a decision on whether to replace its minibus.

The charity says that proposed changes in the law on licences for drivers may mean it can no longer afford to run the vehicle.

Fish currently has a 16-seater Iveco minibus which is used to transport about 500 people each month.

The vehicle has been adapted to accommodate disabled clients and has a wheelchair lift at the back.

Clive Mills, chairman of trustees at the centre, said the minibus was due to be replaced but it wouldn’t be if a new law was passed to ensure every driver of a minibus has to have a public service licence.

Speaking at a meeting of Sonning Common Parish Council, he said: “The whole business of how we are going to spend money is actually locked up with the replacement of our minibus.

“It is due for replacement but we have a slight problem in that the Government has been lobbied by coach operators. They are trying to push through legislation to have every driver of a minibus having to have a licence.

“The best information that we have at the moment is that it is going to take between 30 and 40 days to get the licence.

“We would not be able to continue to run our minibus if that legislation goes through.

“It is up in the air at the moment. We do not want to replace the minibus depending on how the decision goes.”

Councillor Brian Giles said: “I think Fish provides the community here with a unique service. It should have the full support of this community and the parish council.”

Mr Mills said: “Coach operators could never provide the service and the work that we do. We pick up many of our clients from their houses and take them on shopping trips to Henley, Caversham and Reading.

“A coach operator is never going to be providing that service.

“We just can’t understand how any decision could go against the work we have been doing for many years.

“It seems unfair to have a blanket law which says that everybody driving whatever type of vehicle has to have a public service licence.”

He said the cost of having to train its minibus drivers for a public service licence would not be viable, adding: “We would have to rethink our whole minibus strategy.”

Meanwhile, more than 300 people attended a craft fair to mark the 40th anniversary of the charity.

The event was held at Peppard War Memorial Hall in Gallowstree Road.

Children from Peppard Primary School had made drawings representing their view of the elderly, which were judged at the event.

Mr Mills said: “They were brilliant. We had prizes for the children and we gave little Easter gifts to all the children who came — Easter eggs and sweets.”

• Clive Mills is to step down as Fish chairman at the charity’s annual meeting in June after three years in post. He is likely to be succeeded by Richard McQuillan.

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