By Steve Hayes 02/03 Updated: 02/03 09:43
DESPERATE calls have been made to prevent a price hike on the county's meals on wheels services for vulnerable and elderly people.
Warwickshire County Council plans to put the price of a meal up for the fourth time in as many years from next month.
If the plans are given the green-light the cost would rise from £4 to £4.25 - up from just £2.50 in May 2008.
Liberal Democrat councillor, Kate Rolfe, said more and more people were unable to afford the cost and argued this was borne out by figures which showed the numbers using the service had declined significantly.
County Enterprise Foods, run by Nottinghamshire County Council, took over the service from a voluntary organisation in May 2010 after they agreed a multi-million pound contract with Warwickshire County Council.
They took over on the basis they would provide some 250,000 meals a year - or 5,000 a week - but it is understood last year they provided just 150,000.
Coun Rolfe said: "At the moment users of this service, mainly the elderly, are headed for another inflation busting increase.
"The last price rise to £4 a meal on June 1 represented a 60 per cent price increase in just three years.
"Many elderly people will really struggle to pay a higher price and will increasingly be discouraged from using this service, which not only provides a hot meal but also a friendly face and a check on their well-being."
Coun Rolfe argued the increase was unnecessary and urged the council to use reserves to prevent the increase in costs.
She said: "There are many questions that need answering before any increase goes ahead.
"For the coming year the county council has put aside an extra £13.3 million into its reserves, for contingencies.
"I can think of no more important contingency than keeping old people properly fed and I’m suggesting that just a small part of this sum is used to freeze the meals on wheels price."
A Freedom of Information request by Coun Rolfe to Nottinghamshire County Council also revealed in the first year of operation food for the meals accounted for less than a quarter of the total costs in the period - leading her to question the feasibility of providing the service from Nottinghamshire.
A spokesperson for Warwickshire County Council said: "We launched a consultation late last year to find a sustainable way of providing the right services in future and that included areas such availability and charging levels, including whether customers felt it would be reasonable to charge different rates according to people's means.
"The price is comparable to other providers in the market and County Enterprise Foods have worked well with customers on quality and choice but unfortunately the take up of the service has been lower than expected."
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