Temporary reprieve for disabled shopping scheme in Peterborough after council funding cut

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A scheme supporting disabled shoppers in Peterborough has received a temporary reprieve after it was offered one more year of funding by the city council.

The council ended the £14,000 a year subsidy for Shopmobility last month but is now planning to re-instate it from April for another year.

Shopmobility volunteers Roy Harris and Molly Wright at Queensgate EMN-190928-181517009

Shopmobility volunteers Roy Harris and Molly Wright at Queensgate EMN-190928-181517009

This is to allow Disability Peterborough, which runs the service, time to “identify alternative sources of funding”.

Shopmobility provides wheelchairs and scooters for disabled shoppers from its base in Queensgate. It also receives funding from the shopping centre itself, although the amount has not been disclosed.

Although Shopmobility was not due to close immediately from its loss of funding, there were fears in the long-term it would be unsustainable or costs for users would have to rise, leading to concerns that disabled people in Peterborough could end up isolated.

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The Conservative run council, which is tackling a £33 million budget deficit following cuts to its government funding, confirmed to the Peterborough Telegraph last month that funding for Shopmobility was ending immediately.

However, this did not stop cabinet member for communities Cllr Irene Walsh lashing out at coverage of the story during Monday’s cabinet meeting.

Addressing the reports that Shopmobility was about to be cut back, she said: “Nothing could be further from the truth and I have no idea where the idea that we were phasing out Shopmobility has come from.

“I am more than happy to sit down and discuss these matters but what I will not tolerate is wholly inaccurate reporting.”

A few hours after the meeting - which was the first time the partial U-turn had been announced - a council spokeswoman told the PT: “We have reinstated funding for Shopmobility from April 2020 for 12 months. During this time we will work with them to identify alternative sources of funding so that the council’s contribution can end in April 2021.”

Council leader Cllr John Holdich added: “I recently met with the people who run the Shopmobility service and I’m pleased to say that we have agreed to fund it for a further year.

“In that time we will work with them to identify other sources of funding to ensure this important service can continue without a financial contribution from the council.”

Monday’s cabinet meeting also saw several attacks on coverage of the council’s latest budget proposals which intend to tackle £24 million of the £33 million deficit.

Proposals include making up to 75 redundancies, with potentially a similar number being made to council staff contracted to partners Serco, and a four per cent rise in council tax.

Moreover, the council plans to make large cuts to charities supporting the disabled, elderly and adults in poverty, as well as cuts to care support, youth funding, the end of a £50,000 winter heating grant for the most vulnerable, the loss of a support service for the isolated and the removal of hearing screenings for children starting school.

The council said a loss of government funding means it has to focus on its statutory duties, but that it would support groups to find alternative funding and that the community would be ‘empowered’ to take on the running of the services.

Cllr David Seaton, cabinet member for finance, said during Monday’s meeting: “There have been several inaccurate reports in the local press over the past week concerning the levels of cuts to adult services in this budget.

“Let it be totally clear that we have not overspent on this budget, and that some of the figures that have been reported are wildly inaccurate and I wonder which side of the political bench that information has come from?

“It is very noticeable this morning that none of the leaders of the other political parties are here to represent what are obviously their rantings in the newspaper, and I am rather concerned that such important matters have made it to the pages of the press without consultation with myself or the leader of the council first.”

Deputy leader Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald said: “The local media have reported that we will be making cuts to adult services and this is simply not true.

“On the contrary, we are actually increasing adult services from £45.2 million for this financial year, up to £45.6 million next year.

“This council has a statutory obligation to provide adult services as they are required which means, with an ever growing population, that need will always rise.

“I don’t like the way that this matter was handled by the local press who seem to have obtained their information from one side of the political spectrum only before consulting with the council.”

None of the coverage of the budget in the PT has said the adult services budget is being cut, while nobody from the council has complained directly to the PT about any of the articles written.

Later on Twitter, Cllr Fitzgerald picked out a sentence in an article which said that under the authority’s proposals there would be “cuts to care support”.

This was a reference to the council’s plans to reduce low level support for older people discharged from hospital, to charge residents to use the LifeLine personal alarm system, to reduce its pool of reablement flats to support people to regain their independence following a stay in hospital and to end the extra care contract which supports people who are isolated.

Editor’s comment

After the meeting Peterborough Telegraph Editor Mark Edwards gave his response to the comments made by councillors.

He said: ”I am entirely happy with our budget coverage. We quoted councillors Seaton and Holdich extensively as well as opposition politicians. 

“Cllrs Fitzgerald and Seaton are wrong to say we suggested the council would be making cuts to adult social care. We certainly did not suggest that anywhere in our coverage.

“As for Cllr Walsh’s comments I am frankly aghast. The council confirmed to the Peterborough Telegraph last month that funding for Shopmobility was ending immediately. We have the relevant document on file (document ST 15062 from the communications team). It was a statement from service director Adrian Chapman and confirmed the decision to stop funding to Disability Peterborough for Shopmobility from October.

“This was reported in our coverage last Thursday and was not challenged by anyone at the council. 

“So when Cllr Walsh suggests our report was inaccurate and that she says she has ‘no idea’ where the suggestion that Shopmobility is being phased out has come from she has either forgotten, or was completely unaware, that was the authority’s intention before a change of heart was announced at Monday’s Cabinet. Either way she is quite wrong to accuse us of inaccurate reporting. 

“The decision to fund Shopmobility after all was taken at Monday’s Cabinet. This was the first time the council had announced a change to its previously stated intention to cut funding. But of course that decision means that funding has been cut from October and will actually be reinstated in April… so again, it’s not a ‘suggestion’ as Cllr Walsh puts it – but has actually happened.

“We will of course report this in full.”