Transport for some of Norfolk’s vulnerable people to be taken away
- Credit: Colin Finch
Transport for some of Norfolk's vulnerable people is to be taken away, with councillors saying they will be handed more freedom if they use public transport instead.
But the move has been criticised by opposition councillors, who fear the county's bus services might not be good enough for the policy to be workable.
With Norfolk County Council's budgets under increasing pressure as the government shakes up how authorities are funded, adult social services needs to save £54m by 2022.
As part of an effort to cut £1.7m over two years from the £6.1m spent annually on travel and transport for people, County Hall officers asked councillors on the adult social care committee to agree controversial changes.
It will see people who get adult social care - such as adults with learning disabilities - referred to a team which would assess whether they could potentially travel on public transport or on contract buses, after training.
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All service users assessed as suitable would have to undertake travel independence training.
Anyone assessed as being suitable for that would have to willingly participate, or the council could withdraw specialist transport, such as taxis.
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But Liberal Democrat Brian Watkins said the council should not be using a 'big stick' to get people on to public transport and it should be a voluntary, not enforced move, for those assessed as suitable.
He said: 'For many service users, this change of policy will be unsettling and very upsetting.
'There is real concern it could lead to deterioration of physical and mental health.'
He said he hoped it would not lead to anybody taking their lives.
That led to an angry response from Conservative Thomas Smith.
Earlier, he had said the training would give more people freedom and branded Mr Watkins's remarks as 'abhorrent'.
He said: 'You, lying about what we are trying to do is outrageous. I sincerely hope you will apologise. Some of us have some shred of morality.'
Mr Watkins said Mr Smith had not listened properly to what he had said.
Officers said, in a pilot project, of 380 assessed, 258 were not considered suitable for travel training, but 116 were.
Of those who were, 29 opted not to take part, while 45 were travel trained.
The council says, as well as saving money, such as through decommissioning of specialist buses, there are benefits to service users and their families by helping people to become more independent.
Labour's Brenda Jones said she was concerned about the availability of public transport.
She proposed an amendment that the policy be accompanied by a robust assessment of the availability of public transport.
But that was lost, as was a Lib Dem proposal that travel training should be encouraged, rather than expected.
The committee then voted to agree to the policy change.