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Town Councillor Speaks Up For The Hopper

(February 29, 2016)

Warminster Town Council is now in reverse gear for the RUH Hopper bus service as a lone councillor battled against last minute procedure tonight.

Councillor Paul Macdonald, who represents a ward that has the lowest number of car owners in the town had a 'notice of resolution' for debate.

It was urging the town council to work with others to keep the wheels of the hopper bus based in Warminster running.

Town councillors were told that as the consultation about the service had been discussed it fell foul of a standing order that it could not be discussed again for six months.

"This is not about that consultation." said Cllr. Macdonald arguing that this was about the decision taken in May 2015 and an e-mail from a neighbouring town clerk this year.

"This is about our decision in May last year to support the Hopper bus by full council," said Cllr Macdonald.

Three times Paul challenged the chairman of the meeting Councillor Paul MacFarlane to tell him whether his resolution could be discussed.

Cllr. Macdonald was advised that he should withdraw his motion and bring it back somewhere else.

After a period of reflection where he clearly considered this option he stood his ground.

"I will not withdraw this notice of resolution." he said clearly and strongly.

After a brief quiet consultation by Cllr. Macfarlane with the town clerk the Independent ast ward councillor was allowed to go on.

Cllr Macdonald spoke unsuccessfully for about three minutes.

These are his words that in the final vote were rejected:

"I formally move this notice of resolution about the Connect 2 service to the Royal United Hospital in Bath and seek a seconder," said Councillor Paul Macdonald.

After a brief moment Councillor Nick Dombkowski raised his hand saying quietly that it should 'go to the vote'.

"Due to a whole series of decisions that have been taken in the last decade and several in the last 12 months the RUH hopper bus has become an even more important cog in delivering a good health service for our community," said Cllr. Macdonald.

"Where do I start?

"At the top. The government are currently carrying out a reassessment of the motability scheme which provides a vehicle to those with medical needs to help with social mobility.

"They often take the opportunity to put a nominated driver on the insurance of that vehicle providing not only someone behind the steering wheel but a carer.

"Over one half of these are now being withdrawn.

"This will see an increase in those that will be forced to switch to some other form of assistance with many likely to need the Hopper bus in Wiltshire.

"I have referred to the Arriva service that operates a very strict criteria which excludes many from being eligible and which does not allow anyone but the patient to travel on it.

"This again highlights the impact of the motability scheme and more importantly the Hopper bus service decisions.

"And now the county council subsidised bus services are under threat which may see our estates around the town more isolated (also on our agenda twice tonight).

"I draw your attention to the £2 million spent by the NHS on the Arriva Service compared with the amazingly low figure that is it costs the taxpayer to fund the Hopper Bus.

"I think everyone would agree that this shows what a small well-run efficient private business can achieve when compared with the NHS behemoth.

"It is doubly efficient as they only get paid when the wheels of the mini-buses are turning (running from door to door).

"There have been arguments at this council and other places that it is wrong that NHS staff use it but looking at the history of this service is very revealing.

"It was years ago that the NHS and the local authority asked for this as a response to more and more cottage hospitals being run down and services transferred to a central location.

"Just as there was a concern about patients so there was a quite rightly a concern about the disadvantage that staff who were affected would suffer with some having to give up their jobs. It puts bottoms on seats that may otherwise be empty.
"The problem I also foresee is that there seems to be constant NHS change about and there could be a greater role for this service getting people dropped off to appointments elsewhere on the routes to the RUH.

"I now address the issue of financial support for the Hopper.

"In an e-mail to me the leader of Wiltshire Council has confirmed that they were working on the basis of match funding with the Wiltshire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group who would not play ball.

"I am grateful to our MP who is at this moment looking into what I call the financially inept decision by the CCG.

£2 million for 60,000 journeys versus £150,000 for 20,000 journeys!

"What I am looking for tonight is an agreement in principle that we stand ready to support a plan for town councils to help fund the service and that we respond to the Trowbridge Town Council e-mail positively.

"I would like to draw councillors attention to our current financial support for another service that helps those when a need arises.

"There are others but it is the Warminster Foodbank. It helps those in need as part of a wider network that covers other towns. Food donated to Warminster is often then shared with neighbouring towns.

"So it also makes sense that if a hopper bus service that is shared by other users can be kept going then it is supported by us working with neighbouring towns.

"You may be asking yourself why I feel that this issue is so important that I continue to try find a way to keep this service running.

"Cllr. Dombkowski and I represent the East Ward of Warminster. This means local residents live the furthest away from the nearest general hospital at 20 miles.

"In the last national census we represent a ward that has one of the highest percentages of households with no car. Seven councillors live in the East ward.

"It is interesting to note that in the wards that the cabinet members at county hall represent on average well over 9 out of 10 households have at least one car.

26% - Over one in four homes in Warminster East have to rely on public transport or assistance to get to the RUH.

Across the town wards it varies with Broadway having one seven households without a car. All these people twenty miles away from the RUH.

"We are stepping up to the mark in many ways now as a result of Wiltshire Council decisions. I believe we should do so about the Hopper bus as well if it is possible.

"Let us find out what Trowbridge Town Council are now thinking and then take a decision whether we can play a part with financial help."

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