THE ongoing saga over the future of the town’s meals on wheels service has taken another twist this week after was revealed that plans to privatise the service have been delayed by being “called in” for further scrutiny.

Moves were made to end Bolton Council’s community meals provision during a meeting of cabinet on November 4.

Under these proposals the service would be taken out of local authority control and handed over to a private provider. The plans would further axe the current council subsidy, saving an estimated £300,000.

But, in addition to affecting the 323 service users, the changes would affect 16 staff members and numerous drivers.

However the decision approving the plans was called in by opposition councillors and a review will be held by a scrutiny panel to reconsider the future of the service.

Following the meeting, Labour has argued that no private provider would be able to “offer anything near the affordable rate that the council currently provides”.

Councillor Linda Thomas, leader of the Labour group, suggested that the proposed changes had ‘worried clients sick’ and could lead to them losing weight and becoming malnourished, while poorer people may “simply opt out”.

She added her party did not believe that the privatised service would match the quality of food and service provided by the council, claiming: “All told, any savings in the short term that the council hopes to make, will soon be offset by the increased NHS and social care bills.”

However, Conservative councillor and executive cabinet member for adult services, Cllr Andy Morgan, told The Bolton News that keeping the service in house would not only cost more than current prices but would pass on around £1.10 in extra costs on to the service users due to changes to the way the provision is run.

He added that axing meals on wheels was a savings measure initially identified by the former ruling Labour group and accused the party of making the issue a “political football”.

He said: “I and the cabinet have taken months to reach a decision with regards this proposal, seeking to ensure that any alternative providers could provide the same, if not better, food and wrap around service.”

“If the cabinet had not received those assurances, then we would not have come to the decision we did. No residents will be left without a service and all will be supported to source an alternative provision and to remain as independent as possible.”

A spokesperson for Bolton Council said: “

At the appropriate time, when the decision has been concluded, service users and families will be informed and supported to ensure vulnerable people can continue living at home independently and get access to a good quality, nutritious meal.

“All individuals will be supported with their meal requirements. It’s not about privatisation, this opens up a range of suppliers to meet individual needs.

“Any decision will be appropriately communicated to staff and supported in accordance with council policies.”