Labour Councillors at Cambridge City Council are proposing to end charges for the Council’s Shopmobility service from April 2019, the start of the next Council financial year, subject to decisions at Council meetings in February 2019. While usage has risen in recent months compared to earlier in 2018, it continues to be under a half of the level when the service was free, leading to plans to return to a free service.
The Shopmobility service, operating from the council’s Grand Arcade and Grafton East car parks, has seen a recovery in usage after charges introduced last year were reduced in September, but usage has remained at only 45% of the previous year’s level; 937 Shopmobility visits in 2018 in the four months to Christmas compared to 2091 visits for the same period in 2017. In response to the fall, Councillors are proposing to end the charges altogether.
The range of Shopmobility services the Council provides (more below) currently cost £144,900 annually to run and the charges in 2018 have been raising less than 10% of the annual service cost, less than expected because of a fall in usage more than double the original forecast.
Leader of the City Council, Councillor Lewis Herbert said “The City Council was left with a major problem following the decision by the County Council to cut all its funding of around a third of the total Shopmobility budget, leaving the city in a very difficult position.
“We have listened to service users and changed our policy. We know how highly valued Cambridge Shopmobility is by both visitors to the city and residents and, given the continuing usage falls, we plan to end Shopmobility charges from April 2019 and return to a free service. As the Council promised, we have reviewed usage closely, and the fall of 55% in recent monthly Shopmobility visits is unacceptable going forward. Charges have clearly proved an excessive obstacle to people who need and benefit from the range of Shopmobility services that we are committed to continuing to provide.
“We will propose that the Council funds the amount that charging has generated from the council’s General Fund, and ensure that a quality free service is available to all people who need it to access Cambridge.
Councillor Gerri Bird, Lead Councillor for Disabilities on Cambridge City Council added
“We said from the beginning that we would review usage levels every quarter after introducing charges to make sure we were not unduly disadvantaging disabled people visiting the city centre. Given that usage is not working out as forecast, it is right to plan now to end the charges.
“The City Council will also be promoting the change to a free service ahead of implementation in April 2019, subject to it being agreed by the Council at meetings in February.”