PRICES of meals on wheels for OAPs are going up by 30p a time—less than a year after the borough council controversially scrapped its own service, claiming that private companies would offer better value for money.
The inflation-busting seven per cent hike by private firm Park Care Meals has been condemned by campaigners who protested against the closure of the council service.
Park Care, Rotherham’s biggest meals provider, blamed a 20 per cent rise in fuel costs for introducing a new charge of £4.50—up from £4.20—for a hot dinner and a pudding.
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But pensioners’ families say that when Rotherham Borough Council closed the service down officials promised prices would be coming down as private firms took over.
In March last year, health director Shona McFarlane sought to justify the closure of the council service by arguing that a fall in the number of people taking council meals on wheels was mainly down to a price hike to £4.10.
Ms McFarlane said at the time that meals from private companies would be “more cost effective for the client.”
But the daughter of one pensioner said this week: “They said meals would be cheaper but the price of meals have only ever gone up over the last few years, they’ve never come down.
To pay £4.50 seven days a week is a lot of money out of a pension which hasn’t gone up by that much.
“The issue of rising fuel costs is a red herring because not everything has gone up by that amount.
“It just shows that it should have stayed as a council service to show they really do care for the elderly.”
Rick Shipley, director of Park Care, said: “The rise is mainly due to rising fuel costs and food prices and the increase in the minimum wage rates which most of our workers are on.
“A litre of fuel used to be £1 and is now £1.20, that’s an increase of 20 per cent.”
Park Care, which started deliveries last June before the service was finally closed in September, supplies 200 meals a day across the whole borough.
The company, which also supplies several towns across Yorkshire, had not increased charges for hot dinners for two years, he added.
There will be no rise in the price of evening teas which the firm also delivers.
Campaigners against the closure of the council service said that the increase was predictable.
Former councillor Irene Furnell said: “When the council made the decision they did on meals on wheels Cabinet member Cllr John Doyle and others said we now had one of the best meals service in the country.
“I did then, and still do think, that simply signposting clients to a private provider—providers over who the council has no control over prices or anything else—doesn’t constitute a meals on wheels service.
“I am sorry that already one of the providers has already, in less than a year, put up the price.
“But it was always on the cards that this would happen and that’s why we campaigned to keep it as a council run service and why more than 6,000
Rotherham people signed the petition in agreement with us.”
A spokeswoman for the borough council said that in the past the authority itself always had to review its prices for meals on wheels and that charges were increased frequently in recent years to meet increased costs.
She added: “Now the new system allows individual customers to choose their provider, who in turn will review their own prices.
“Customers will make their own decisions as to cost and value, meaning that the customers themselves now have greater choice.”
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