Funding for Huntingdon’s Shopmobility to be cut after charity ‘failed to meet’ funding conditions

Huntingdonshire District Council

Huntingdonshire District Council - Credit: Archant

Huntingdon’s Shopmobility scheme could be forced to close by the end of this year after Huntingondshire District Council opted to cut its funding.

The group, which has been running since 2006, has been told that it will not receive a penny more from the district council after March and will also have to pay more than £10,000 to remain in its current base.

Shopmobility was set up after Huntingdon’s High Street was closed to cars, with the service allowing people with limited mobility to hire out scooters and wheelchairs so they can get around the town with ease.

The service employees six staff and is aided by a team of six volunteers, operating from a mobile base in a car park off Malthouse Close.

Debbie Drew, Shopmobility manager, said: “I feel that we have become a scapegoat. The council wanted to reduce its budget and I think we have been seen as a soft target to allow them to make savings.”

The service received £30,000 from the council in 2013/14 and 2014/15 but was told that it would have to meet a series of criteria, including match-funding £30,000, in order for it to receive grant funding for 2015/16.

The service was only able to raise £17,500 and, according to Mrs Drew, this counted against them when a review was held into its future funding.

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Mrs Drew said: “The council said that they understood it would be difficult for me to raise that sort of money, so to suddenly use that as an excuse to cut our funding is just wrong.

“It makes it look like we have been a failure, which is just not true. We have tried to reduce our costs and we have made savings as much as we have raised money.”

Mrs Drew said that she had also been told that, in order to remain in its base, it would have to find about £10,000 to meet the cost of the lease.

She added: “We have been asked to make a decision by February 22 as to whether we want to take over the lease. We have been frugal over the years and we have some reserves that will keep us going for a short period of time but to take on the lease of the cabin too will cripple us.

“Without this service many disabled people will become isolated and no longer able to access all that Huntingdon has to offer.”

Shopmobility has about 2,000 users annually.

A spokesman for the district council said that councillors had agreed a new way to fund voluntary and community groups in Huntingdonshire that was based around “an outcomes driven approach”.

The spokesman said that Shopmobility had “not met” conditions set out in a previous agreement.

The spokesman said: “The council has committed to exploring arrangements for the most effective approach to creating transparency and certainty for future voluntary sector funding by July 2016.

“This will see the council working openly alongside its voluntary and community sector partners to ensure that this continued support is measured in clear and positive outcomes within our local communities, and builds ongoing capacity and sustainability within continued partnerships.

“Refocusing on an outcomes driven approach has now meant that funding to Shopmobility has had to stop, as it has not met the results and conditions of previous funding agreements.”