Darlington cuts are ‘hitting the frail, elderly and vulnerable’
In the continuing series looking at how cuts across Darlington will impact on residents, Paul Cook reports on the threatened Ring-a-Ride service.
THEY might represent a tiny fraction of Darlington’s near 100,000 population, but for Ring-a-Ride users, the service is a vital lifeline.
To mirror that tiny percentage, funding for the facility barely causes a ripple in the vast ocean of the council’s budget.
Yet, the service faces an uncertain and bleak future when funding ceases at the end of the year.
Ring-a-Ride has lived under a cloud for more than two years – its funding was to be withdrawn during previous budget reductions until it was saved following public consultation.
It took over five years ago from a former guise as Dial-aRide. It provides transport to 36 regular and 97 occasional users, elderly and vulnerable people, many of whom would otherwise be unable to leave their homes.
Ending its funding will save Darlington Borough Council’s budget only £6,000 this year and £25,000 per year afterwards.
The first customer was Judith Reed, from Bank Top.
Aged nine, she contracted polio which left her severely disabled.
Now 68, Mrs Reed says Ringa-Ride’s loss will create a real hole in her quality of life. She uses it for dentist and doctor appointments, shopping trips and weekly church worship.
Mrs Reed says: “The drivers become friends. They are very helpful and carry shopping in for me.
“I don’t know what I will do when it finishes. I will probably be stuck in, I can get to the park and back but that might be about it.
“The council is hitting the frail, elderly and vulnerable.”
Operator Darlington District Youth and Community Association is unsure how it will continue when funding ends in December.
Gayle Bentham said: “We are trying to think of every idea to keep our users, but our funding is being taken away.
“We provide much more than a taxi service. Sometimes we are the only people these people talk to each week. My heart breaks for all the people who use this vital service.”
The council’s cabinet approved the grant removal last month – two weeks after it gave The Forum music centre £6,000 to prevent it from closing.
Liberal Democrat councillor Anne-Marie Curry appealed for the cabinet to defer its decision.
She says: “It is only fair that we give these people a fighting chance. The worst thing we can do is simply say we don’t have the money and you’re finished.We should say we are running short of money and we should give them time to sort themselves out. We gave them this service to give them freedom. We need to help these people just like we gave The Forum a stay of execution.”
Councillor David Lyonette, cabinet member for transport, argues the council faces difficult choices to reduce spending by £22m.
He adds: “Ring-a-Ride is used regularly by 36 residents and receives a subsidy of £45,000 per year from Darlington council, this is an approximate cost of £23 per trip.
“Regrettably, while hugely valued by individual users, the service is simply too expensive per user to maintain against the level of savings we need to find, and this is just the start of difficult decisions about the future withdrawal of services.
“However, I would like to reassure residents that full equalities impact assessments are completed for all proposals to reduce services and a full disability impact assessment was made in relation to the withdrawal of Ring-a-Ride. Some of the money saved by withdrawing Ring-a-Ride has been put back into creating personalised packages to meet the needs of its regular users.”