The Liberal Democrats in West Berkshire have launched a campaign to save the local ReadiBus service, following news of its impending closure due to Council cuts.
The ReadiBus, which supports those with restricted mobility get around independently, will cease operating this month after the Conservative West Berkshire Council administration cut its funding after the service refused to sign a "gagging clause" in its contract that would stop it from speaking out about future cuts.
Lee Dillon, leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on West Berkshire Council, said:
"We have seen yet again WBC Administration focusing on itself and not the residents it was elected to serve.
Incorrect paperwork for CIL has cost residents thousands of pounds and now we see the Council throwing out funding for a crucial service because they want to be protected from any criticism by using gagging orders.
I can understand why ReadiBus would be reluctant to sign up to this clause given how they have been treated to date:
A 68% cut in funding without consultation because and I quote ' it was not considered to be appropriate by officers due to a significant number of them (Readibus service users) having learning difficulties. This would have made it difficult for them to comprehend what was being proposed.'
This neglects to recognise that many ReadiBus users have mobility problems not learning difficulties and is a disgraceful approach to consultation.
West Berkshire introduced the ‘gagging clause’ to the SLA for 2020/21 which would have prevent ReadiBus from making any public statements on any matter relating to West Berkshire Council. The signing of the SLA was made a condition for the release of the second half of the grant for 2020/21.
ReadiBus has continued to provide transport to users in West Berkshire despite not being paid for its services. How does the council justify not paying for services already rendered under the previous agreement?
In a normal year, pre-Covid, 25,000 trips a year were made with ReadiBus in West Berkshire. With that service now being withdrawn it will be the residents of West Berkshire that will suffer and all because the Council doesn't want service providers to shine a light on how they are treated.
The Administration would do well to remember they are running a council not a private company and that openness and scrutiny should be welcomed rather than drafting legal clauses to stop transparency."
You can sign the petition at the link below.