COUNCIL coffers can no longer support the vital shopmobility service in Stratford town centre.
Stratford District Council has revealed that the service, which hires out scooters and wheelchairs to some 1,700 shoppers and visitors with mobility issues from Bridgefoot car park, is going to have a change of management.
Currently run by SDC, it could soon be run by third party provider – Active Mobility – as council funding runs out in March 2024 and will not be renewed. The funding, of £73,000, is reviewed annually.
The two members of staff who make up the shopmobility team face redundancy.
But charitable organisation, The Friends of Shopmobility, which was set up to raise funds for new equipment, is opposed to shopmobility being run by a third party provider.
In 2021 and 2022 the Friends made a request for SDC to invest more funding into the service and make a longer term commitment to supporting it, as opposed to the 12 month funding situation, but SDC said its budget would not allow this.
Active Mobility, which services the shopmobility equipment, expressed an interest in taking over the service for an initial period of three years.
This improved service provision would operate from two sites, the existing Shopmobility office and the existing Active Mobility office in Union Road.
The service would operate longer operating hours. They would introduce card payments, new computer systems, and deliveries to hotels and homes.
A spokesperson for The Friends of Shopmobility raised concerns about the council moving away from independently supporting the service.
“It would definitely become a business where profit, not service, is the driver. We believe this could be termed as a quick fix rather than a long-term plan and detrimental to a lot of users.
“Some of the proposals to make changes to this service open it up to be managed differently with goals that go against the inclusivity that SDC like to promote.”
Disability campaigner Elizabeth Dixon is in favour of Active Mobility taking over Shopmobility as she believes the service needs investment.
She continued: “I know that Shopmobility could be much more than what is offered at present, but finances got in the way. To get this far SDC has spent considerable time to ensure the right decision is made and a partnership with Active Mobility will do this.”
Shopmobility portfolio holder Coun Liz Coles added: “The most important point is the continuation and provision of this vital service. Over the years it has provided vital support and assistance to those who need it most.
“The Friends of Shopmobility have raised considerable sums of money for equipment to be used around the district and their efforts are noted and we are grateful for all the hard work.”
SDC’s Cabinet will discuss the future of the shopmobility service when it meets on Monday (September 4).