Community bus service could be cut after dispute with council

  • Video report by ITV Meridian's Mel Bloor

People who use a community bus service in parts of Berkshire have told ITV Meridian that, if the service is cut, it will leave them vulnerable and isolated.

ReadiBus offers dial a ride transport for the elderly and disabled in Newbury, Thatcham, and surrounding areas.

The charity says it's been forced to stop services in Newbury because of a cut in funding from West Berkshire Council following a dispute.

Readibus has been a lifeline for passengers like Marilyn Credit: ITV News Meridian

For the past 12 months, 80-year-old Marilyn Hayward has been shielding at home.

Readibus picks Marilyn up from home and takes her to the shops, medical appointments and to meet with friends.

Marilyn says without the service, she'll be stuck at home permanently.

She said: "Readibus means so much to us and I think it's taking our legs away. We're not going to be able to go out and I'm the youngest of them, so I know how the others are going to feel."

  • Marilyn Hayward, Readibus passenger:

During the pandemic, Readibus has continued to provide transport to the elderly and disabled in Newbury.

The company has also been working alongside the ambulance service to help get people to hospital for non-Covid related treatment.

But after 25 years, Readibus says it's being forced to stop services after West Berkshire Council cut its funding.

It claims its grant has been slashed from £45,000 in 2018, to £13,000 in 2020 and a total of £5,000 this year.

During the pandemic, Readibus has continued to provide transport to the elderly and disabled in Newbury. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Sophie Bowlby, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Readibus says the service is a "lifeline" for many elderly people.

She said: "It's hard to sum up how awful it is for people. They're just going to be trapped in their homes."

  • Sophie Bowlby, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Readibus:

Readibus also claims the council won't release half of last year's funding, due to the charity's refusal to sign, what it calls, a 'gagging clause' preventing it from speaking publicly about funding without the council's permission.

In a statement, West Berkshire Council said: "Discussions with Readibus and other community transport operators have been clear in that any grant, funding in excess of £5,000 from April 2020 onwards, would be subject to a service level agreement."

The service level agreement included standard clauses on confidentiality that the Council would expect from its service providers. These are not 'gagging clauses', it merely ensures that the service provider notifies the Council before any information concerning the agreement is put in the public domain.

Statement from West Berkshire Council

Marilyn and the many more Readibus passengers who use the service, say they hope the council will review the funding cuts before it is cut next week.