Development agency Advantage West Midlands will invest £300,000 into the Wheels to Work service – which provides mopeds for people to travel to work – despite funding cutbacks.
The scheme, which has paid for transport for around 400 people, will run for the rest of the year after extended funding was agreed.
It offers people travel advice and practical support to enable access to employment and work-related training. This can include moped hire, driving lessons, bicycle loans, small grants and help devising travel plans.
The initiative is delivered by county councils in Staffordshire and Worcestershire, the Community Council of Shropshire, Herefordshire Voluntary Action, the Coventry and South Warwickshire Partnership and Telford & Wrekin Council.
Its future was confirmed until March after Advantage West Midlands (AWM) completed a detailed update of its Corporate Plan 2008-11 against the backdrop of a global recession, a £48 million cut in its funding from Government and a reduction in estimated land and property receipts of around £20 million.
Phil Roberts, rural partnerships director at AWM, said the Agency was now working with Staffordshire County Council to prepare an application for European funding via the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) which could extend Wheels to Work across the region up to 2013.
He said: “We have been through a challenging time in terms of making choices and communicating difficult messages to partners during our corporate plan review as we balance support for businesses and communities during the recession with longer term plans to ensure the region is prepared for the economic upturn.
“Wheels to Work formed part of a wider ranging project, the Rural Access to Services programme, which ended on March 31 this year.
“However, the successful Wheels to Work element of that programme had the most impact and was most valued by partners.
“I’m delighted that AWM is extending funding for the rest of the financial year. This is not only a boost for people living in rural communities, it is also a tribute to the hard work and dedication of Wheels to Work partners managing the scheme day-to-day.
“Our key tasks now are to secure European funding and look at how the project can become sustainable with the help of contributions from more of the public sector partners whose clients ultimately also benefit from the service.”
In Shropshire, the Wheels to Work scheme is delivered by the Community Council of Shropshire, a local charity, under contract from Shropshire Council. It has secured £70,000 from AWM and £30,000 from Shropshire Council.
David Roberts, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for local environment and economy, said: “Shropshire Council is delighted to have secured the funding that will enable Wheels to Work to continue this year, and we expect more than 250 people to receive help and support as a result.
“The service plays a vital role in helping people of all ages to access employment or work-related training, which is particularly important and very much in demand during the recession.”
Mark Powell, Shropshire Wheels to Work co-ordinator, said: “The current recession has seen an increase in interest for Wheel to Work as people struggle to regain employment, especially in rural areas.
“We are very grateful to Shropshire Council for their continued support for this invaluable charity scheme. The funding they provided meant we could continue a seamless operation while a delay in securing AWM funding for this year was resolved.”