A vital Falkirk social service for isolated, disabled and elderly people is to be put out to tender.
At a full meeting of Falkirk Council yesterday (Wednesday), members rubber-stamped a decision to put the contract for accessible transport and taxicard booking service onto the open market - inviting bids from outside firms in an effort to get best value.
That service is currently provided by non-profit charity Dial-a-Journey and some members believe things will decline if a private company wins the contract.
Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn said: “Commercialisation of this service will have an impact on it and could result in people having to rely more on other services.
“It will become nothing more than a subsidised bus service. We are in danger of losing the core of what this service is all about – it has been designed and run by disabled people for disabled people.
“I would urge the council to think again and continue to support Dial-a-Journey.”
Councillor John McNally added: “We will end up with more people living in isolation.”
Councillors David Alexander and Tom Coleman both said it was ironic that the council had presented Dial-a-Journey with an award for partnership working just a month earlier and was now taking steps which could put an end to that.
Mr Alexander said: “We do have an issue of social responsibility – I don’t think anyone wants to see the service disappear or even be put at risk.
“We all know what a private firm will do – they will bump up the service charges for disabled people.”
Councillor Gordon Hughes stated the administration had lost its “moral compass”.
He added: “If we want the service to be effective we should look at the concerns of the users.”
It was stated Dial-a-Journey had just as much chance as anyone else to win the contract – if it put forward a good enough proposal that offered best value.
Councillor Gerry Goldie said: “Isn’t it possible Dial-a-Journey will win this contract?
The rights of disabled people will not be diminished because another company is successful in their bid.
“The firm will have to have suitable expertise to manager their tender and protect the rights of disabled people if their bid is to be successful.
“It’s now up to Dial-a-Journey to win the tender – if they don’t I will be confident the organisation which is successful will be able to deliver the better service.”
Council leader Craig Martin said: “We don’t think the service will disappear or be diminished. I think service users will get the service they need.
“This is the best way forward and I hope Dial-a-Journey comes forward with the best tender.”
The council also voted to offer a new service level agreement to Dial-a-Journey at £49,000 a year to run the Shopmobility service from April 1, 2012, to March 31, 2017.