TRADE unions representing workers producing hundreds of meals for the town’s elderly residents have called on Bolton Council to reconsider the future of the meals on wheels service.

Last month The Bolton News revealed that the community meals service would no longer be provided under new council proposals. A consultation on the changes was launched but unions say they have negotiated an extension to the process to September 19.

UNISON has said that it “appreciates” the nine years of austerity faced by the council but argues that “there are still political choices to be made”, and is calling on the council to look at ways to extend or enhance the “vital services” instead of cutting them.

The union has also suggested that axing the service will expose the elderly to risk of dehydration and malnutrition.

Jackie Peploe, chairman of Bolton UNISON, said: “Bolton Community Meals services may not be a statutory service but it is a popular and effective preventative service that is rightly valued by a great many people. It cannot simply be replaced by private catering companies who are motivated by profit rather than public service. We are saying to Bolton Council let’s put this proposal aside so that we can work together and find ways to save Bolton’s meals on wheels.”

This position has been supported by Alan Flatley of Bolton GMB who has called for the service to be extended to include foods which can be eaten later, such as sandwiches and fruit; as well as a hot midday meal. He said: We would be more than willing to discuss other ways to help make services more efficient and effective. We believe that through working together it may well be that the unit costs of community meals could be reduced”.

If plans to axe the meals on wheels service go ahead, hundreds of people across Bolton could be affected, and food bills for the elderly and infirm could increase by a third. It will also lead to at least 10 job losses and cuts of nearly 200 hours of work per week for drivers. The move is estimated to save the town hall nearly £300,000 per year and comes as the council tries to plug a £23.5m hole in a two-year budget.

Adult services boss Cllr Andy Morgan, said: “Consultation on these proposals is ongoing and all feedback will be taken into account before a final decision is made. Should the changes go ahead, the council will ensure that all service users receive the support they need to continue living at home independently and to get access to a good quality, nutritious meal.”