Councillors express concern over meals on wheels

Councillors have raised concerns that plans to scrap council-run meals-on-wheels services in Norfolk could increase cost and complexity for elderly and vulnerable customers.

Norfolk County Council plans to hand over control of its service, currently used by around 1,069 people in the county, to private companies.

Officers said in a report to councillors that each meal was subsidised by an average of �4.96, bringing the true cost to �8.20.

Speaking at a meeting of the Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel yesterday, Marion Chapman-Allen, councillor for Thetford East, said: 'I've got a number of concerns and issues.'

She said that she was worried that costs could rise to �60 per week.

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Vulnerable and elderly patients would also have to pay companies using debit cards, she warned.

'I feel that this is a bit of wishful thinking because some people don't have debit cards. How will they pay for their meals?' she asked.

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The plans were nonetheless approved by councillors and will be sent to cabinet for discussion.

James Bullion, assistant director of community services, said further consultation would focus on: 'Should there be a subsidy and, if not, how quickly should it be withdrawn?'

He denied the new scheme would raise costs and said private firms could offer a cheaper service.

'There are providers who can deliver a hot meal for �4. It can be offered at �4, non-subsidised by the council, and high quality,' he said.

He added that savings could be made despite many meals being currently delivered by volunteers.

George Nobbs, councillor for Crome division, said: 'I'm now bemused that the voluntary sector is now more expensive than the private sector' and asked why the council had been 'chucking money away for years' if the private sector was capable of making substantial savings.

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