The Conservatives who run West Berkshire Council have defended their decision to cut funding for a charity that provides elderly and disabled people with transport.

ReadiBus stopped providing a dial-a-ride bus service in Newbury and the surrounding areas on April 16, claiming it was “no longer viable”.

The Conservative-run council says community transport funding has not actually been cut since 2019, but ReadiBus is now receiving a smaller share “because they are delivering less passenger journeys relative to other providers”.

READ MORE: Charity stops bus services for elderly after funding dispute

According to the Tories, ReadiBus only provided around 2,000 journeys during the last year due to the lockdowns – around 10,000 fewer than the previous year.

The council provided ReadiBus with a £45,761 in 2018/19, but by 2020/21, its funding had been cut to £13,134.

The charity says it was expecting to receive just £5,000 in 2021/22 – but it cost over £50,000 a year to provide services in West Berkshire.

The ‘gagging clause’ dispute 

The charity has not received any grant funding since September 2020 and claims the council will not release that money until trustees sign a contract with a “gagging clause” that prevents them from making any public statements about the cuts.

Lee Dillon, leader of the West Berkshire Liberal Democrats, has condemned this clause, adding: “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 Liberal Democrats are also running a petition – with over 1,000 signatures – that calls for the council to “review their decision on funding ReadiBus” because the charity provides a service that is “a vital community asset which we cannot afford to lose”.

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Any operator that receives a grant over £5,000 from the council is asked to sign a Service Level Agreement (SLA), which states they must notify the council if they plan to issue a press release or statement about the service they provide.

The Tories who run the council say this ensures they are aware of those issues and the contract does not prevent the operator from issuing any statements or press releases.

In a statement, they said ReadiBus were provided with half their grant for 2020/21 “in good faith while the council awaited their signature”.

‘Ludicrous allegations’

Cllr Richard Somner, executive member for transport, said: “The Conservative administration have a sound track record of careful financial management and this includes ensuring that council taxpayers’ money is spent carefully and within the terms and conditions that are agreed as the prerequisite for receiving such money.

“Opposition parties appear keener on grabbing headlines, making ludicrous allegations to mislead residents, and scaremongering by disregarding the communications provided to them both internally from the service and externally by the council.

“The communications have given information to all residents of alternative solutions via established and experienced service operators, but which the Liberal Democrats choose to ignore”.