Pensioners made to fork out for hot and cold meals

ELDERLY people in Weston have been handed the worst possible Christmas present in the form of increased charges for hot and frozen meals.

ELDERLY people in Weston have been handed 'the worst possible Christmas present' in the form of increased charges for hot and frozen meals.

Cost-cutters at North Somerset Council have this week approved proposals to up charges for hot meals by 10 per cent from £2.60 to £2.85 as of November 30.

Measures outlined also include handing control of the distribution of frozen meals to a private contractor.

This means people will be told to use Wiltshire Farm Foods which will charge pensioners an average of £3.51 per meal, compared with £2.70 for meals previously provided by the council.

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The moves come as unitary authority tries to balance its books ahead of further budget announcements expected before Christmas.

Councillors say they face a £17million shortfall in funding from central Government over the next two years.

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However, concerns about the welfare of those receiving meals have been raised in an anonymous email sent to the Weston & Somerset Mercury by someone claiming to be a council employee.

It said: "Community meals provide not just a meal but a welfare check as well."

Weston Senior Citizens Forum chairman, Ken Lacey, said: "We will be keeping a close eye on this so that our members are not short-changed."

Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate Mike Bell said: "This is a disgraceful and mean-minded decision which is all about cutting costs.

"To bounce this through at the end of October and implement it a few weeks later is the worst possible Christmas present for the vulnerable old people who rely on this service."

The savings from the frozen meal proposals are estimated at approximately £10,000 on 2007-8 and £25,000 in a full year, according to a report which went before the council's executive on Tuesday.

Increasing the cost of hot meals by 10 per cent will generate £30,000 additional income for the council this year and £75,000 annually, dependant on the continued uptake of the service.

The transfer of existing meals to the private sector has already taken place and the increased charges for hot meals will take effect from November 30.

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