Botesdale and Rickinghall group furious at Suffolk County Council over rural transport plans

Passengers of the Botesdale and Rickinghall Good Neighbours Scheme (BRGNS), outside Rickinghall Village Hall.

Passengers of the Botesdale and Rickinghall Good Neighbours Scheme (BRGNS), outside Rickinghall Village Hall.

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The Botesdale and Rickinghall Good Neighbour Scheme (BRGNS) has described Suffolk County Council’s plan to contract out rural transport services and stop subsidising community provisions next year as “utterly deplorable”.

The council will start assessing bids tomorrow from providers looking to enter into contract to deliver a single-brand rural transport service, which would end the council’s contract with existing schemes, including the BRGNS Wheels Within Wheels service for elderly and disabled people in north Suffolk.

Gordon Lawrence, who has helped run the BRGNS, a voluntary, not-for-profit scheme, for 15 years, said without a tender from another organisation, the Wheels Within Wheels service could not continue, which he believes will leave hundreds of people “house bound”.

“This is such an invaluable service for so many people,” Mr Lawrence told the Diss Express.

“They (Suffolk County Council) absolutely haven’t considered the needs of the people.

“It’s utter chaos. It’s difficult to imagine what will happen to all the people in these villages.”

Tender documentation on Suffolk County Council’s web site says the funding available for the new transport provider, which would commence its contract next May, is being reduced over five years, from £1.4 million down to £700,000.

Mr Lawrence stated the council had advised the BRGNS to set up as a business, but he argued this was “simply not practical”, and said they were now seeking somebody else to support Wheels Within Wheels, which currently covers 20 villages and records around 3,000 people movements per year.

“I’m very happy to run this organisation as I have done for 15 years,” he added.

“We are not a business. We are totally, 100 per cent voluntary. So it’s up to us to try and find a tender that the council may or may not accept.

“Unless I can get someone to take me under their umbrella, we just won’t run. It’s such a vital service.”

Suffolk County Council declined to comment on the matter while the tender process is still ongoing.

For details on the future of Suffolk’s rural transport, go to www.suffolkonboard.com/news/rural-transport