Pensioners’ fears for “lifeline” transport service

Burnley pensioner Elizabeth James
Burnley pensioner Elizabeth James

Vulnerable pensioners have revealed their fear that a “lifeline” minibus service is being scaled back in response to government cuts.

The elderly people in Burnley, many of whom are disabled, enjoy weekly trips out on the Lancashire County Council Travelcare minibus, but are worried that the service is under review.

Retired nurse Elizabeth James (88) said the service had been invalubale following the loss of her partner, and that the day trips had restored her confidence.

She said: “These weekly trips have been invaluable and helped me to move forwards – being with others who have faced problems similar to mine has been a therapeutic antidote to my isolation and loneliness.”

But the county council has reassured users of its Travelcare fleet and said changes will allow it to save £2m. but also safeguard the service.

The county council said that changes in the way the council’s fleet of specially-adapted Travelcare buses is run, along with adjustments to the operation of county council-run day centres, will deliver the savings by doing more with a smaller fleet of buses.

The Travelcare fleet is used to take children with special educational needs and disabilities to school, and to take disabled and older people to day centres.

Until now those journeys have all been made at the same time, but by starting day centre services an hour later, a smaller fleet will first take children to school, then take adults to day centres.

County Coun. Tony Martin, cabinet member for adult and community services, said: “This solution will mean we can sustain this free service for some of our most vulnerable people, while making some of the significant savings needed as a result of ongoing cuts.

“We understand this means some changes for the people who attend day centres but we’ve worked closely with them to minimise the impact as far as possible.

“It will mean people get picked up a bit later in the morning, but where they are attending county council day centres, they will also stay there later in the afternoon, and therefore receive the same level of service.”

The county council is reducing the fleet by around 50 vehicles, with around 65 fewer frontline staff needed to deliver the newly configured service.

The savings being made are part of £65m. savings agreed by the Full Council in February. It is forecast that the council needs to save around a further £200m. by 2020/21.