Council forced to apologise for 'ignoring' people with learning difficulties in bus cuts row

Watch: Full report by ITV Meridian's Mel Bloor

Interviewees: Sophia Bowlby, Chair of ReadiBus Trustees and Sue Newman, mother of a ReadiBus user

West Berkshire Council has been forced to apologise for failing to carry out a public consultation about a reduction in grant funding to community bus charity ReadiBus.

Following an investigation spanning almost two years, the Local Government Ombudsman found that the local authority was in the wrong and criticised its explanation for its failure to publicly consult.

A spokesperson for ReadiBus said: "The intentional exclusion of the cuts to ReadiBus funding from the public consultation on 2019/20 budget proposals was a serious failing in West Berkshire Council’s public sector equality duty; and the Council’s expressed reason for doing so was clear disability discrimination."

ReadiBus is a dial-a-ride bus service for people with restricted mobility in and around Reading Credit: ITV Meridian

In response to ReadiBus' complaint and to enquiries made by the Ombudsman, the council had said: "Public consultation with service users on the proposals was not considered to be appropriate by officers due to a significant number of them having learning difficulties. This would have made it difficult for them to comprehend what was being proposed."

The Ombudsman stated, “If this was the council’s reason for not carrying out a public consultation, this is concerning as many of ReadiBus’ clients have mobility issues and not learning disabilities. In addition, a public consultation could have engaged with the families and carers of those with learning disabilities and to exclude them from this process on the basis they may not understand the process is fault.”

The council has apologised to ReadiBus but the charity says that's not good enough.

  • Sophia Bowl, Chair of ReadiBus Trustees:

ReadiBus is now urging West Berkshire Council to meet with them with a view to fully exploring what went wrong and how it can put right.

In a statement, the council said: "The Council values the views of local residents in helping to design and deliver services which meet their needs and helps to enhance their lives. This complaint relates to a decision made in 2018/19 and since then the Council has improved its engagement with local residents. A new Communications and Engagement Strategy was adopted in autumn 2019 which builds closer links between residents and the services they use.

"West Berkshire Council continues to support community transport schemes and has allocated £55,000 in funding this year to help local providers deliver services, as well as making grants totalling £50,000 available for specific projects each year. Community transport continues to be available across the district, and remains a valued service by those who use it."