Bedfordshire-based Link-A-Ride closes due to coronavirus

Ampthill community transport firm had operated for 25 years

Tuesday, 5th May 2020, 10:36 am

A community transport provider in Bedfordshire has ceased operating after the coronavirus crisis scuppered its last chance of a financial recovery.

Ampthill-based Link-A-Ride closed its doors for the final time at the end of March after 25 years.

Link-A-Ride controversially lost its grant funding from Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) three years ago, under a shake-up of local community transport provision.

Link-A-Ride was based in Houghton Close, Ampthill (Google)

CBC defended its actions saying it was "obliged to take action" and put dial-a-ride services out to tender, following legal challenges.

There was no plan to save money or to provide a door-to-door bus service, a meeting of its sustainable communities overview and scrutiny committee was told in November.

"We had to go to an open tender process to renew the service," explained Conservative Arlesey councillor Ian Dalgarno.

"There were legal challenges from other providers against grants being used in this area.

"It hasn't been a cost cutting exercise. We're still spending the same amount of money as before.

"We're not making savings," said councillor Dalgarno, who's CBC's executive member for community services.

Link-A-Ride's manager Cheryl Coverdale campaigned tirelessly over the way CBC handled aspects of the tendering process leading to Greensands Community Transport being contracted to provide the service.

Conservative Dunstable Icknield councillor David McVicar reminded the committee in November: "It's not an obligation on this council to provide any kind of community transport at all.

"We don't have to do it. Other councils don't do it."

But Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Ken Matthews said: "I believe that tender process was flawed. I am told that we obeyed all the rules.

"But how was it we ended up giving a contract to an organisation that hadn't got the capacity to provide the service?

"That's undeniable because they had to sub-contract out to Link-A-Ride to ensure they were offering the service, which they undertook to provide yet were unable to do so.

"When I hear Link-A-Ride is having to close its doors I think that's a crying shame.

"I really do believe the tender process was flawed. We tried to defend subsequently what I consider to be the indefensible."

The Link-A-Ride team said in a message to its users and sponsors: "What an incredible 25-year journey!

"A privilege and a pleasure to have been a service to you the public, our community. We thank you for your support.

"To our clients we leave with fond memories of happy times we've shared on our bus journeys together.

"We're also grateful to our devoted committee, local businesses and councillors, as well as town and parish councils."

It added: "The committee has worked tirelessly to secure the financial future for the service.

"Despite heroic efforts and many hours dedicated to sourcing alternative funding it hasn't been possible.

"With vulnerable people being less likely to travel, any plans we had to generate new sources of income have had to be cancelled."