The new community transport service set up by Suffolk County Council has been criticised by campaigners who say it will damaging for the county’s most vulnerable residents.
On Tuesday Suffolk County Council confirmed the new service providers for rural transport provision.
The council says this is part of a major council transformation programme to connect communities with the services ‘they want and need’, but it has been criticised by campaigners as simply cost-cutting that will the leave disabled and elderly users in a vulnerable position.
The new service operators will begin on June 16.
In the Babergh district Hadleigh Community Transport Group has taken on the tender, subcontracting to GoSTART for the Sudbury area.
Leader of Suffolk County Council, Colin Noble, said: “We have undertaken a range of engagement activities with the market and community groups; speaking to current service providers and other potential bidders has informed the approach we have taken towards awarding these contracts.
“We have also listened to the community organisations who represent residents who use the services. As part of the process we undertook full equality impact assessments.
“I am really pleased with these new services. They have been designed to make things simpler for residents. We have been repeatedly told that the current system for using services is difficult to understand. In future there will simply be one phone number for residents to use to get the service they need in their community.”
Jane Basham, vice chair of the South Suffolk Labour Party, opposes the changes.
“Councillor Noble’s claim is grossly misleading. This is not about supporting volunteers but controlling them so cuts can be made,” she said.
“The Conservatives claim to be the party that understands rural issues. This decision shows they are taking village and market town residents for a ride - or not.”
The ‘Save Our Community Transport’ petition, set up by the local Labour Party, now has more than 5,000 signatures, signed by many community transport users and providers.
Labour spokesperson for transport, Suffolk county councillor Sandra Gage, said: “Across Suffolk, the support for the Labour petition has been overwhelming. This goes to the heart of what is wrong with the County Council’s cost-cutting contracts.”
The petition will be presented to Suffolk County Council later this month, with campaigners asking for a full council debate and vote on March 17.
Mrs Gage added: “What concerns me is that there is no evidence that the awarded tenders can deliver the local bus services needed.
“Several of the county’s current community transport providers will not be continuing under the new arrangement. These have provided excellent almost entirely voluntary transport provision for some of our most isolated villages. ”
Between now and June 16, residents should contact current providers in the usual way.