Video: Shopmobility users take part in demonstration to protest against the cuts
Dozens of shoppers on scooters and wheelchairs took part in a demonstration outside the Town Hall to protest against plans to cut funding for Shopmobility.
The demonstrators made their way from the Shopmobility office down St George’s Square to the Town Hall on Tuesday morning.
The service provides scooters and wheelchairs for disabled people to help them go shopping in The Mall.
Tina Dye, assistant co-ordinator for Shopmobility, said: “We have generously been given £70,000 a year towards the running costs of the service, it costs £78,000 a year to run.
“It has been recommended that all the money be cut, if that happens and we cannot get alternative funding, the service will close.
“It is a valuable service, for some people it is their lifeline, people come here, use the service and can meet their friends and do their shopping. It is heartbreaking, I think it will be a massive loss and a shame if the town loses this service.
“One day it could be them that needs the service and how will they feel if it is no longer here, because once it is gone they will not get it back.
“These people cannot get around the shopping centre without this service, by taking it away from them, they are taking away their independence.”
The demonstration went outside The Mall down to the Town Hall with many shoppers joining in the chants as they went past.
Ann George volunteers for the service and helps three ladies, she said: “I am really angry about this, I cannot understand how this can happen.
“It makes a difference to so many people, it really would be a shame if it has to close.”
Another lady at the demonstration said: “There are three people where I live that rely on this service, one of them uses it so he come to town, see his friend and do his shopping, without it he would not be able to do these things.”
A spokesperson for Luton Borough Council said: “Shopmobility has been largely funded through a donation from Luton London Airport Ltd and the existing three year agreement ends in March 2016.
“In these financially demanding times LLAL made the difficult decision to reduce its community funding programme in favour of providing a bigger dividend to the Council in order to protect vital statutory services and support the most vulnerable people in Luton. Shopmobility was notified on 31st December that the funding would be ending.
“Over the last six years the council has had to make savings of more than £99 million, during which time its funding from the Government has more than halved.
“Over the next four years the council expects its Revenue Support Grant to be reduced by a further £28 million, while rising costs purely to cover demographic pressures arising from increased demand for children’s and adults’ social services in particular are estimated at £6 million annually.
“In order to continue to meet its requirements to set a balanced budget, the council regrets it does not have the money to continue to support this valued service.
“In light of the cessation of funding, the council has been working with Shopmobility in order to put mechanisms in place to minimise the impact on customers.
“The council has assisted in the development of a business continuity plan and have researched a range of alternative possibilities for Shopmobility: fundraising exercises, increased activity of charity shop, National Lottery funding, service mergers and sponsorship from the Mall and local businesses.
“In addition we are helping to signpost to organisations that have the necessary skills to continue supporting those who use Shopmobility’s services.
“Shopmobility has provided a valuable service to the people of Luton and visitors to the Mall in the provision of a wide range of services, including less visible ones such as the provision of transport for health appointments and social activities.
“The council is determined to do all it can to help Shopmobility continue its important role.”