“This is a matter of life and death.”

Those were the words of one member of the public who spoke out at the heated Cabinet meeting last night were plans to plug Swindon Council’s £12m budget blackhole by slashing funding to some local services were discussed.

Among the catalogue of cost-cutting proposals are plans to reduce funding for Dial A Ride, the voluntary transport service for disabled and elderly people who struggle to travel, by £50,000.

Other cuts include turning off some street lights and cuts to youth centre funding.

Speaking at the meeting Mary Ratcliffe, a member of Action Against Elder Abuse spoke of her concerns.

She said: “I am deeply disturbed by two very serious issues that directly affect the lives of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“It is sheer hypocrisy to pay lip service to caring for the elderly to enable us to stay in the sanctity of our precious homes, whilst placing the Dial A Ride, and the Shop Mobility parking space under threat.

“Both facilities are absolutely crucial to the daily lives of so many amongst us.

“Alleviate the stress that you are causing and be there for us.”

Councillors took questions from a number of worried people who attended the meeting and were quick to point out that no cuts would be made to the Shop Mobility service.

Leader of the council Rod Bluh admitted these were the toughest financial times facing Swindon but said they were needed to make a ‘minimal impact on frontline services.’ He blamed the current financial crisis on the recession but also on the mounting costs of adult services and care which are soaring due to our ageing population.

He said: “We won’t pretend this is going to be easy and there is a lot of things we wouldn’t do if we didn’t have to. Some of this is regrettable.

“We often sound like broken records saying we have financial challenges but this is true.

“This is a very big and very real challenge.

“To get a reasonable level of council tax and to go forward we have been required to find savings and efficiencies.

“We are doing everything that is humanly possible to keep this ship afloat.”

Councillors said the cuts to the funding of the disabled transport group were down to the fact they are almost entirely funded by the council and they needed to fundraise themselves and be more resourceful.

Coun Peter Greenhalgh, cabinet member for transport, said that the cuts to Dial A Ride were about increasing efficiency and that the council was prepared to work with them to achieve this without cutting services.

He said: “They have got to be smarter about what they're doing.

“People have been taking some very cheap jibes at the council, but what we're trying to do is make them a model of efficiency.”

Leader coun Rod Bluh added: “Just because we reduce the amount of money doesn’t mean we reduce the service."

The cost-cutting measures were heavily criticised by leader of the Labour group Derique Montaut who said the council were hitting those most vulnerable in our society.

He said: “Whilst recognising the right of your administration to outline your priorities on the budget, what concerns me is the devastating impact these priorities will have on the most vulnerable citizens of our town.

“The cuts you have proposed on the Dial-a-Ride and Shop Mobility services are relatively small sums of money, yet hits those most defenceless in our community.

“This shows that you have treated the forthcoming budget very much as an accounting exercise without any evaluation of the cost that these cuts will make to Swindon's communities.”

Members of the cabinet agreed to the proposals and the plans will now go out to public consultation until a formal decision is made in February.