West Lothian mobility service to close as council pulls funding plug

A charitable West Lothian mobility service that has provided support for up to 50,000 people in West Lothian is set to be axed after the council pulled the plug on its funding.

Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 8:11 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd January 2019, 8:14 pm
Lothian Shopmobility staff Yvonne Middlemass (in blue) and Christine Overy (in red) with service users at The Centre, Livingston

Lothian Shopmobility is a charity that loans wheelchairs and mobility equipment to shoppers during their visit to The Centre in Livingston.

The service, which has six members of staff, provides vital assistance to thousands of residents with a mobility impairment, many of which are elderly or disabled.

But Lothian Shopmobility is one of many services having its funding withdrawn as West Lothian Council vows to make cutbacks of £16m for the 2019/20 budget and £65m by 2022/23 due to “increasing costs and insufficient funding from the Scottish Government”.

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Without the £39,000 of annual funding the service, which has been operating since 1991, will be discontinued on March 31. Lothian Shopmobility co-ordinator Margaret Wilson has been involved with the charity since 1996 and admits “never in her wildest dreams” did she expect the funding to be totally scrapped.

She said: “This service is vital for thousands of residents. A lot of our users don’t see anyone else from one day to the next. Our staff are like extended family for many, they’re there for a chat or a blether. They get to socially interact - even just going for a coffee which doesn’t sound like a lot, but will mean a great deal to some people.

“I know users who have been depressed and suicidal believing life is so bad because they cannot get out of the house.

“One couple I know, the lady had not left the house for six years. The service meant she left the house so her partner could get her an engagement ring. I cannot understand how the council can do this to thousands of elderly and disabled people who we help live an independent life.”

John Marshall and his wife Elizabeth, both 70, have been using the Lothian Shopmobility for more than four years and said the council’s decision to scrap the funding is ‘irresponsible’.

He said: “I have two metal knees and two metal hips so the service is a God send. It is unbelievable that the council is stopping funding for such an incredible service. It really gets my blood boiling. We use the service every Monday and then other days too throughout the week. Without the scooters we’re stopping at every seat at The Centre.

“The decision is just irresponsible and uncaring. I cannot express how great the people are and the service will be sorely missed by thousands of people.”

Organisers were only informed of the decision to withdraw funding for the next financial year in a letter received on January 17.

Angela Constance, MSP for Almond Valley, has slammed the decision to withdraw funding and has urged the local authority to reconsider its decision. She said: “This is a short-sighted decision by the council meaning hundreds of local people battling with a disability will be less independent, less able to do their shopping and less able to attend medical appointments.

“I am writing to the council asking them to urgently reconsider this decision given that their resource funding for the next financial year will increase by £7.5 million, and if they will be picking up the costs of assisting people with their shopping and appointments.

“This decision is also bad for business therefore I will also write to the shopping centre management and local retailers to ask what assistance they can offer this organisation.”

West Lothian Council says total funds applied for totalled over £1.6m which is significantly higher than the allocated £944,000 it has to allocate to organisations.

A council spokesperson said: “The council is allocating grants to voluntary organisations totalling nearly £1 million next year. The funding will go towards helping local groups provide voluntary services in West Lothian.

“The council needs to reduce its overall spending by £65 million by 2022/23 due to increasing costs combined with insufficient funding from the Scottish Government – who provide us with 80% of our funding. £16million has to be reduced from our budget in 2019/20 alone and that has a huge impact on our ability to deliver some local services, including our ability to provide funding to local voluntary groups.

“Despite an overall reduction in the amount of funding we can allocate via voluntary organisation grants, a great number of groups and individuals will benefit from the funding.

“All organisations were aware, prior to them applying for grants, that the council had less funding than previous years to allocate.

“The total funds applied for totalled over £1.6million which is significantly above the council’s budget for this year and next year. Given budget restrictions the council asked an independent panel to consider all voluntary applications to allocate the £944,000 to organisations who applied for the grant funding.

“They assessed each application and made their decision based on which applications had the greatest impact and were most aligned to the council’s priorities. We understand that some organisations will be disappointed with their allocation; however the council has less money to spend than in previous years which makes it impossible for us to maintain the same level grant allocation.

“We have made each organisation aware of the outcome of the applications and outlined alternative support available to them. Specifically council officers will offer to work with the group between now and March in an effort to identify alternative funding arrangements.”