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NEWSLETTER No 63 SUMMER - August 2013

Dear Members,

It has been a while since our last Newsletter in January, and SO much has happened since. It would be lovely if we could report that everything is rosy in our metaphorical garden, but the truth is that times are getting more and more tricky for us, and a very major change has taken place. We have served you for up to 25 years and believe you deserve a full and honest explanation of how we have got to where we are. This is it. Are you sitting comfortably?

FINANCIAL CLIMATE

I reported in January that the country’s economic difficulties are really beginning to bite, and we had incurred huge extra costs to cover illness and injury, let alone the general rises in fuel and other items we need to buy. They have all had a major affect on our budget and we ended the last financial year with a very significant loss of £27,000. This followed a loss the year before, and we cannot sustain such losses.

The councils who support us are having to make massive savings themselves so are not in a position to raise their levels of support, yet demand for our service continues to grow. We have thrown everything at it we can to meet this demand, but it is simply costing us too much to do so. We are not a bottomless pit of drivers and buses and money. Last year, when the Farley Hill Access Bus was axed, Luton BC told people via the newspapers and their website “talk to Dial-a-Ride”. We were the answer to their problem then, now we too are no longer available due to funding shortages.

So, this has resulted in one of the most important decisions our Management Committee have ever had to make. Even though it was so important, it was also one of the easier decisions they have made, as the solution became so obvious.

PULLING OUT OF LUTON

Luton passengers had received a totally free service for many years. We also work for Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) and you may be aware they introduced a fare of £1-50 per single journey (£3 return) in April 2011. CBC did this so they could make a saving in their budget but also maintain the same level of support for the very important service the dial-a-rides provide. Prior to March 2011 we then made representations to Luton BC for them to introduce a similar system and save themselves over £50,000 per year. They did not adopt this suggestion.

Several times in these newsletters I have mentioned we would like to introduce charging an annual (or other) membership fee. We also put this to Luton BC several times and were told that the service should remain free, if we made any charge, they would reduce our grant accordingly.

A period of consultation took place earlier this year, and all Luton members were consulted as to their opinions on introducing charging in Luton. Over 90% were in favour of paying towards the service. A decision was made by Luton BC Executive in April to completely remove the concessionary fares subsidy they supply to South Beds Dial-a-Ride and Shopmobility from 1/4/2014. This equated to a 37% cut in our funding from Luton BC from that date.

In October 2012, Luton BC commenced a review of Community Transport, looking into South Beds Dial-a-Ride, Shopmobility, and (we believe, though we are not absolutely sure) their own Passenger Transport Unit. We made full and honest representations to that review making it absolutely, and unambiguously clear, what the effects of any funding cuts would be. We even broke it down into 20% step increments, explaining the effects upon their service levels and our staffing and buses. There could be no doubt. Remember, this was October 2012.

We have had many meetings over the past few months with very senior council managers regarding their Community Transport Review and our deteriorating financial position. They were under no doubt as we told them repeatedly, that we had to make urgent and drastic decisions in our organisation and their service. We are now in August 2013 and that review is not complete. Final funding decisions will be made, based upon that review, in December 2013. We simply could not wait that long, and our funding may have been reviewed downwards, or even removed altogether. This is what we were told.

We have effectively been subsidising Luton BC for over 2 years. If we had continued to do so, we would go out of business in 6 months and not be able to help anyone, anywhere. We are only a small charity, with limited resources. It is not legal to continue to operate in a state of insolvency, which we would reach in that time.

To try to improve our financial situation in 2013 during the review process, we made 3 proposals as to how Luton BC could allow the 90+% of members’ wishes to be granted, and to be charged for the service starting before 1/4/2014. We believe if they had the will to charge this, they could. We can only surmise Luton BC did not have the will to help us, and thereby put your Dial-a-Ride service under final threat.

Faced with all our initiatives being refused, we had no alternative and had to act urgently. We had to call an “Emergency General Meeting” of our Management Committee.

So, we advised very senior council managers and Councillors at Luton BC on Friday 2nd August that we would be putting 4 options to our EGM on Wednesday 7th August. The 4 options were:-

(1) To “do nothing” – this was unacceptable to us as it would mean us going out of business in 6 months

(2) With extra financial support from Luton BC we could maintain the service at current levels until 31/3/14.

(3) With extra financial support from Luton BC we could maintain the service at 50% of current levels until 31/3/14.

(4) We could pull out of Luton.

Options (2) and (3) proved unacceptable to Luton BC as they “have no money”. This left option (4) as the option which was carried. We had to pull out of Luton.

You may ask:-

·         Q - Why did we “leave you in the lurch” by pulling out at such short notice?
A – We operated fully within the terms of the agreement we had with Luton BC. We are in no breach of contract, as we do not have one. For 7 years we have not had a contract. We were prepared to sign a contract 2.5 years ago. Luton BC refused to sign it.

·         Q - How could our (your) service have been protected for you for a longer time?
A – By a contract. This would have tied us in to a notice period, or certain penalties for being in breach. It would also have included expected levels of service from us, in terms of passengers carried per year, customer satisfaction levels, and/or other measurable factors.

·         Q - How else could our (your) service have been protected for a longer time?
A - Your service could also have been protected by extra funding, or the acceptance of our introducing any of our own charges over the past 3 years. ALL of these were refused by Luton BC.

·         Q – Why did we pull out at such short notice?
A – It was costing too much money to continue subsidising Luton BC for over 2 years, and this was continuing this year too. You can see from elsewhere in this newsletter, that we have given plenty of notice to Luton BC about or position. In fact, they have had many many more warnings and information about our position over the past 2 years. We wonder how much they were listening? We wonder if they believed us?

·         Q – What do we do now?
A - You now have a new Shopmobility service, so should use that. Several years ago I was told by the Head of Passenger Transport that they “could take over our service tomorrow”. Let please see how it goes, how it suits your purposes, and please feedback to us any issues and successes you have?

·         Q – Can we still talk to South Beds Dial-a-Ride and come on the day trips?
A - ABSOLUTELY YES!!! We would love to continue dialogue with you, and keep you informed about day trips and other services. We will no longer receive grant and concessionary fares subsidies from Luton BC, but we can still help you at a different “price”. Please call with ANY query.

This was a very serious decision for us to make. We have been helping Luton members for 25 years, and we perform over 70% of our journeys in the town. We are very sorry to have had to take this decision, but we do not believe we took it irresponsibly. In fact, we believe the opposite is true, as we have kept your service on the road for over 2 years from our own funds, while we have been making losses and trying to get your council to accept just one way of helping us help you in to the future. We are very sorry for any lifestyle changes you may have to make, and we hope they are minor as Shopmobility now aim to deliver to you over 22,000 journeys per year, at less than £130,000, with a 97.6% satisfaction rating and great safety record. We wish you and them luck with that challenge. After all, it took us 25 years to achieve!

THE FUTURE

We shall continue to serve members in Central Bedfordshire in the short term. We are already introducing new services, albeit at a cost which is not subsidised, but you all know the quality of service we have offered for many years, so please stay in touch. We will try new ways to stay in touch with you, like this delivery directly through your letter box. We will also use e-mail so if you or a family member have e-mail please let us know the address at admin@sbdar.co.uk and we will add you to our circulation.

Following Luton BC announcement of the withdrawal of the concessionary fares subsidy from 1st April 2014, this opens the door for Shopmobility and a Dial-a-Ride service to charge for their passenger journeys from 1st April. We were losing money whilst, at the same time, receiving a fare subsidy on your behalf, so this will all need to be recovered. You should expect a single fare of at least £2-50 per single journey (£5 return) to be introduced. It may well be necessary to charge between £3-£6 per single journey (£6-£12 return). No doubt you will be advised of this in due course.

STAFF

Finally, it should not be forgotten in this very sad situation, that this also affects your lovely drivers and the office staff providing support to them. We are all, to a man (and woman), under 90 days notice of redundancy. It is bad enough that you may not have your transport service for a day or two as a replacement service is on the way, but some of us may actually lose our jobs. In these difficult financial times this will create an even more significant lifestyle change for the unfortunate ones. We are trying to make the most of every additional funding opportunity we can, but that is our reality.

Unfortunately Kevin is still not available for work, but we are pleased that Brendan has now returned to work full time. We have had a great set of agency drivers from Extrastaff with Brian for about a whole year, Peter, Barrington, and more recently Aiden doing a great job for us, and you. We thank them all, and to Dean at Extrastaff who has been so helpful.

Compiled by Dave Barratt - 15/8/13

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