Elderly and disabled people across East Staffordshire will lose a “lifeline” when a much-needed mobility scooter hire service is axed, sparking fears the closure could damage trade in the town, it is claimed.
The Burton Mail was contacted by several older and less-able people in the area, after it was revealed that East Staffordshire Borough Council-operated Shopmobility, based at Crossley House, Manor Croft, will close on July 21, after more than 30 years of serving the public.
The council says it could not find an appropriate provider willing to take on the service, having completed a money-saving review.
Many of its customers hire out a mobility scooter from the town centre shop for £1.50 a day while they do their weekly shopping, but many have been left “heartbroken” that this service will now shut. For many, a trip to town is the only time they have human contact, they say.
Roy Whenman, 85, from Stretton called the closure “diabolical”, saying: “I use the scooter to do my shopping. It is diabolical because we haven’t had notice.
“The amount of customers this will affect is terrible. Quite honestly it is a lifeline and I don’t know how I will do my shopping. I have been using Shopmobility for two or three years.
“I get a taxi on a Thursday to go and to do my shopping. It costs £1.50 to hire a scooter for the day. Maybe the council doesn’t make any money from it. I think £1.50 is quite reasonable.
“Next Thursday will be my last trip. I have my own scooter but it takes 20 minutes to get into town from Stretton and 20 minutes back, and then doing that in winter and in rain.”
Dan Holden’s neighbour Jean Orgill has been using Shopmobility to hire a mobility scooter for ten years.
Mr Holden said: “I can’t understand why that building can’t be free as the borough council owns it. I think it is because it is too expensive for the council to run.
“It is a terrible shock for my neighbour. She is 89. This has restricted her. She needs a scooter to get around town
“It is another nail in the coffin of old age people having any kind of life or independence.”
Carol Woolley, 60, of Stapenhill, says that while she does not need a mobility scooter, she fears the closure could prevent older people visiting town which, she says, could affect trade and lead to a decrease in the number of people using the Dial-a-Ride bus service.
She said: “I use the mobility Dial-a-Ride bus and I have a walker but a lot of people can’t walk and it is not fair on them. They rely on scooters.
“If people aren’t able to get round town they will stop coming which will affect trade and maybe the dial-a-ride bus.
“It is not fair for other people coming from as far as Uttoxeter, Barton and Yoxall. Especially if they are on their own all the time. We look forward to going out and doing a bit of shopping and seeing people.”
Another Shopmobility customer, 92-year-old Winifred Barrett, from Winshill, said she had witnessed one woman “sobbing her heart out” after being told of the closure.
She said: “I have been using it for 30 years. It was in New Street for years then moved to the market place.
“I have gone every Friday to town with my friend. And my son picks me up so I am not as desperate as some people. One woman was sobbing her heart out this morning, saying it was her only way to get out and do her shopping and see anyone.
“I can’t walk. I get a taxi down there. I don’t know what I’ll do now. I’ll try to teach myself online shopping but it is not the same. As it is part of socialising.
“Some are heartbroken about this.”
She also received a letter stating similar providers, Burton Premier Mobility and Ableworld Mobility.
Ableworld Mobility, is currently based out of the town centre in Centrum 100, while Burton Premier Mobility based in the market hall charges £2 per hour or £6 per day to hire mobility scooters.
The Burton Mail was told by Burton Premier Mobility that it could not lower its prices for former Shopmobility customers.
Owner Debbie Walker said: “Our prices are slightly different. We are a private retailer. We haven’t got as much room for our mobility scooters but we are offering that service as well.
“The majority of our business is sales but we do incorporate a hiring service.
“We have to pay for maintenance of our scooters and a large insurance. We do try to keep our prices reasonable to continue to offer a good service.”
On its website the borough council describes its Shopmobility service as “giving greater independence and easier access to the facilities available in the town centre.”
Councillor Richard Grosvenor, leader of the council, said: “One of the council’s main priorities is to provide value for council money services and, in our 2016/17 and 2017/18 Corporate Plans, we made a commitment to appraise and investigate options for the delivery of the council’s Shopmobility service and to implement the findings of that review.
“The review suggested that if there was not an appropriate alternative provider willing to take on the service, the next step would be to consider closing the service.
"Consultation on the closure of the service took place between May and June 2017 and after consideration the decision was made to close the Shopmobility service from July 21. The council is currently considering how best we can fairly distribute our existing equipment so that regular users can still benefit from it.
“For the local economy, this is actually a positive approach, the council wants to promote local economic growth rather than compete with local traders. There are several local mobility equipment providers which current service users can contact for their mobility needs.”