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NEWSLETTER No 64 WINTER - November 2013

Dear Members,

Well, another 3 months have passed since the last newsletter, and again I have to tell you that SO much has happened. We are still in the phase known as “the fallout” from the monumental decision which had to be taken in August to withdraw our service from Luton Borough Council - more of this below. The details of the reason for our withdrawal were presented in our last newsletter No. 63. If you have not seen a copy, please ask for one.

THE PAST 3 MONTHS IN LUTON

It has been a disappointment to us that some of our members have shunned our drivers on the streets and elected to no longer support our coffee morning in November, because they feel we have let them down. After serving Luton for over 26 years, actually subsidising the service for the council for the last 2 years, and still continuing to campaign for your service, I believe our staff and charity deserve better. The sad decision to withdraw from working with Luton BC was not taken by the drivers, but they are not the only ones to suffer, as many actually have, or are, losing the jobs held for many years. Hundreds of Luton’s elderly and disabled are also suffering from fewer journeys and social isolation may be becoming a more serious issue. Many people are affected by the decision in many ways.

The reaction of the Leader of Luton BC has been described by several people as outrageous. It showed no thanks nor appreciation for the hundreds of thousands of journeys we have performed safely over the past 26 years, but strongly and publicly attacked South Beds Dial-a-Ride for effectively exposing the council’s own shortcomings. The solution to the problem had been in Luton BC’s hands for several years, and it was they who repeatedly chose not to help you by not helping us. Few people seem to realise the Trustees of South Beds Dial-a-Ride would have been acting illegally to allow the charity to continue to operate knowing the losses being incurred would put us into financial jeopardy. Other than close the service altogether, the Trustees had no option. Prison would have been the ultimate sanction, the situation was that serious!

It appears the “interim service” brought in by Luton BC on August 12th is falling way short of the desired level of service members have been accustomed to. Despite the claims of their Head of Transport that they could “take over our service next day”, over 3 months later they have still not delivered an effective service anything like the one they received from us. The last report available stated the “interim service” was moving about 22% of the previous journeys and costing almost 5 times as much!! So much for value for money and spending the taxpayers money wisely? Remember Luton BC’s Mission Statement – “The needs of Luton’s people will be first in everything we do”. 

THE PRESENT IN LUTON

We have had a number of our members try to use the new “interim service” with very varying levels of success. Some have returned to us and are now paying a fare for their journeys. We are now able to charge a fare (as over 90% voted for in a public consultation) as we are no longer funded by Luton BC, and they cannot stop us any more. Those members have told us they would rather pay for a safe reliable service than travel on a free service which leaves them at their destination, which will not go outside Luton, cannot be booked more than 2 days ahead, is full when they try to book 48 hours ahead, does not answer the phone, is sometimes rude, or is very selective in the destinations it will travel to.

After about 3 weeks of using the new “interim service”, Age Concern (Luton) made a very bold decision and also voted with their feet. After several episodes of gross unreliability from other services, they decided to transfer ALL their transport requirements away from Shopmobility and Luton BC, and are now, very happily, using South Beds Dial-a-Ride. We undertake regular journeys  to lunch clubs and the like for their users, and special day trips have been arranged at Age Concern’s request.

Some members have asked why they still see our buses in Luton. This is for several reasons. Apart from the Luton residents we continue to serve, we still bring members from Central Bedfordshire to therapy centres, day centres, and shopping in Luton, and remember to take them home.

THE FUTURE IN LUTON

The lack of an effective replacement service from Luton BC now leaves our members with an ineffective transport service for those who find it difficult to use public transport. South Beds Dial-a-Ride therefore felt it necessary to declare its intention to return to Luton with a new dial-a-ride service. The scope of this is still to be decided as it depends very much on whether or not Luton BC wish to be involved with us.

To Luton BC’s credit, they have kept open some channels of communication which has allowed us to ask for their support in applying for a grant from Luton Airport to help us deliver a new dial-a-ride service from April 2014. We very much hope Luton BC will reach a decision and make the recommendation we have asked them for. This would help us deliver a better service than the one we believe they are capable of delivering themselves, and indeed the one we know we are capable of delivering on our own. We are continuing our discussions with the council in the hope that sense will ultimately prevail, and we can work together again in the future. Luton BC regularly refers to making partnerships with the “third sector” (like us) and wanting to work with charities. Partnership is the best way, and South Beds Dial-a-Ride is certainly up for it. In fact, we suggested it.

So the good news is that there will be some level of dial-a-ride service in Luton in the future, it’s just a question of how big it will be. Luton BC’s Executive has already decided upon the withdrawal of over £49,000 of concessionary support from April 1st 2014. It does seem certain that whatever service is put in place will be smaller than the one you enjoyed before, and will certainly be chargeable at the point of delivery. As Bob Dylan sang, “the times, they are a’changing”.

You may be interested to know that Luton BC’s Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee are very concerned about the lack of a dial-a-ride service. They are investigating thoroughly various aspects which lead up to the withdrawal of our dial-a-ride service, the effectiveness of the current “interim service”, and lessons they can learn for the future. It will take a while for them to scrutinise and consider the details properly, but rest assured, South Beds Dial-a-Ride are cooperating fully, openly and honestly supplying any information required so the Scrutiny Committee may make their recommendations to Luton BC’s Executive. The target is for the Scrutiny Committee to report early in January 2014. We sincerely hope their findings help to put a full dial-a-ride service back on the map and an equitable solution is found for the future. The ongoing (13 months so far) review into Community Transport in Luton will also feed into whatever new plans the council come up with.

STAFF

I mentioned in the last newsletter that 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. Some have now actually lost their jobs, and there will still be one or more casualties in South Beds Dial-a-Ride before the organisation reaches the right size for our survival plan to work. Overall in 2014, the charity will employ about half the staff it did before the withdrawal. In the last 3 months we have lost, or will be losing, these 4 members of staff:-

 

  • Martin decided to leave us, after over 5 years service, for a position with a more certain future, and has now added to his qualifications and become a bus driver for Arriva buses in Milton Keynes.
  • Mick decided to leave us after 4.5 years and is now a self employed driver.
  • Kevin unfortunately has not recovered from his heart attack sufficiently to rejoin us and the job he held for 7 years can not be kept open any longer.
  • Ann opted to take voluntary redundancy, after almost 14 years service, and will be leaving in the next month.

We wish everyone the very best in whatever they chose to do in their futures, and thank them for many years of excellent service with South Beds Dial-a-Ride. We know our members miss these friendly faces and voices as they are often mentioned to us.

Brendan recovered and returned full time but then unfortunately suffered a relapse, so has been unable to work for several months.

Extrastaff have again been very helpful over the past few months, so Brian and Peter have been regular faces with us, and Barrington and Aidan have made the occasional appearance. We are very grateful to all of them for helping us keep the wheels turning.

 

MEMBERSHIP SCHEME

Another effect of the changes we have to make is to finally introduce a membership scheme with an annual charge for membership. This will bring us in line with almost every other dial-a-ride scheme in the country. We will introduce this in the next few months and phase it in over a period of time to spread the administration load. The charge will be £10 per year, and will enable ALL members to travel with us. For those members who do not travel regularly on our buses and so miss the posters on the bus notice boards, we shall be able to post newsletters and trip lists to you. E-mail helps us reduce costs so if you have e-mail, or a friend or family member who has and can let you know, we can send information quicker, cheaper, and in colour! The membership charge will apply to all members, wherever they live.

TRIPS

We performed a number of very successful trips between August and October. We do have difficulty reaching everyone who does not travel with us regularly, especially those in Luton. We hope the membership scheme will help this problem. If you are not aware of the shopping trips and pub lunch we have planned for December, please call the office.

WHAT MORE CAN YOU DO?

Several members and their families have asked this question. Our advice is for you to do one or more of the following:-

  • Contact your local councillors, especially if they are in opposition as they are more likely to ask the searching questions.
  • Consider calling one of the advocacy services in Luton, there to help individuals and groups who have difficulties when making their views heard and getting them aired in the proper places.
  • Contact other elder persons’ or disabled representative bodies. There are several.
  • Talk to other charities involving the elderly or disabled.
  • Contact the media. Local press and radio often carry features and stories which affect local residents.
  • Contact the representatives of any social group(s) or association(s) you belong to, asking them to act on your behalf.
  • Talk to us.

One thing is for sure, if the problem of not having a dial-a-ride service is not kept high on the council’s agenda, it may be seen to have “gone away” and not needed. If the council are not regularly reminded of your plight and the difficulty or impossibility of your getting out of your homes, other funding priorities may overtake your need and the service may be forgotten, or scaled down to something almost unworkable.

At South Beds Dial-a-Ride, we have not given up on you. We continue to fight for your alternative to the public transport system.

 

Compiled by Dave Barratt - 28/11/13

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