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Victims of stroke hit by bus cost cutback
9:40am Monday 11th March 2013 in News
MEMBERS of a club supporting stroke victims and their families fear it could close after Swindon Council voted to completely remove subsidies for the Dial A Ride minibus group hire service.
The Swindon Stroke Supp-ort Group, a charity with 86 registered members aged from their 50s to their 90s, hires two wheelchair-accessable buses every Thursday to take its less physically-able members to a meeting in Stratton, and also uses them for monthly day-trips and a yearly holiday.
Swindon Council has long subsidised this element of the Dial A Ride service through a contract, currently held by the voluntary group Swindon Dial A Ride, but this and other “auxiliary services” will not be included in a new contract starting on September 1, due to a decision to save £70,000 on community transport.
Whoever wins the tender will still have to provide the core services, which include a pre-booking, wheelchair accessible, door-to-door bus service around the borough. However more than 100 groups who hire the buses, most of whom support disabled people, will have to seek transport elsewhere.
Ivor Hancock, the stroke group’s transport liaison officer, said the club was self-sufficient, funded through donations and fundraising, but would struggle to pay the market rate for disabled transport to bring members to weekly meetings at the Methodist Church Hall, in Ermin Street.
He said: “How are we going to get people there who cannot get out of their wheelchair? There’s no one else that offers that facility. They’re house-bound and it’s the only sort of social life they have. It just doesn’t bear thinking about if it closed.
“I’ve had a stroke problem for 27 years myself and I just don’t see the logic of it. Times are hard, but why pick on the most disadvantaged? There’s going to be a lot of people without transport and without a club.”
The group hired the buses about once a month to go for day trips to attractions like the Cotswold Wildlife Park, and also uses them yearly to get to the coach pick-up point to go on holidays to places like the Isle of Wight. But they have not been able to book ahead this year due to uncertainty over the service.
Ivor, 67, a grandfather-of-six who is paralysed on the left side, said: “The stroke club has given me my life back. I don’t know what I would have done, because the facilities are just not around Swindon for stroke patients or stroke victims.”
Coun Keith Williams, cabinet member for leisure and strategic transport, said: “We have to protect the most vulnerable, the most needy, and basically providing subsidised minibus hire probably on balance now isn’t the sort of thing the council should be doing.
“Dial A Ride themselves can continue doing it obviously and there’s lots of other people out there that provide minibus hire for the groups that Dial A Ride provides bus services for as well.”