FUNDING for a charity that provides transport for the elderly and disabled in Swindon is to be cut, the council has revealed.

Swindon Council says it can no longer pay the £331,000 a year it provides to Swindon Dial A Ride as the contract it has with the charity breaks EU laws.

The council says it is committed to providing a Dial a Ride service in the town, but will put the contract for it out to tender on the open market as it has to ensure value-for-money for council tax payers.

The charity will be able to put in a bid to run the service but it will have to compete against other private companies and the cheapest is likely to win. The current funding arrangements with Swindon Dial A Ride will continue for six months until the new contract with whoever wins the bid is finalised.

The procurement advisory group, which makes recommendations to cabinet, took the decision. The announcement throws the future of the charity into doubt as it is almost solely funded by the council.

Evelyn Ryder, director of Swindon Dial A Ride, said the charity had not been kept informed about council meetings to discuss the future of the service. She said: “The first I knew was when someone from the Swindon Advertiser called our office last week.”

The charity would consider bidding for the contract if the terms were favourable, she said.

“If it is work we feel a charity can do, we do have an opportunity to bid just like everyone else,” she said “But we would still be a charity and would have to apply for other funding.”

Swindon Dial a Ride operates 15 buses to take people who would otherwise be unable to use public transport to appointments, to meet friends or to go shopping. It made 50,000 single journeys last year.

The Conservative-run council threatened to cut £50,000 from Dial A Ride’s funding at the end of last year, but backed down in the face of fierce opposition from other councillors and members of the public.

The Labour group on the council believes that putting the Dial A Ride contract out to tender will end up meaning customers having to pay more to use the service.

Coun Derique Montaut, leader of the Labour group, said: “Despite all the talk of council funding to Dial A Ride breaching EU law, something disputed by commercial solicitors, and the Conservative administration publicly supporting the basic values of what Dial a Ride represents, it is quite clear that the replacing of Swindon's Dial A Ride service with a private-sector transport firm is a money-making exercise.”

Gavin Calthrop, head of communications at Swindon Council, said: “Swindon Dial A Ride has provided the Dial A Ride services for Swindon Borough Council since 1997. These were provided through a grant, £331K in 2009/2010, paid on a quarterly basis.

“During 2009, a review of the Dial A Ride service was undertaken and it was established that the current arrangement of providing a grant to Swindon Dial A Ride, does not conform to current European law.

“In order to maintain continuity of service to the public, an interim agreement for six months is urgently being put in place with Swindon Dial A Ride until the services are formally tendered to the open market.”