Meals on wheels delivery drivers celebrated as councillors agreed to have a public debate on axing the service before a final decision is made.

The community meals service staff stormed the town hall this week after the council was accused of making decisions “behind closed doors”.

This comes after the decision to stop serving meals and make way for private companies to offer their services instead was “called in” for further scrutiny – but the debate was set to take place in the absence of the press and members of the public.

Now, staff hope the council will agree with the scrutiny committee’s unanimous recommendation for the council to reconsider its decision.

Lee Hawksworth, who has delivered the meals for 22 years, said that people who use the service are worried – but some are not aware of the changes.

She said: “They have dementia some these people. Some are aware and they’re upset, but at the moment, we are not telling them anything.”

Bolton Council community meals drivers outside the town hall

The drivers said that the service they provide is more than just delivering a meal.

Angela Cooper said: “They are vulnerable people. Sometimes we’re the only people they see.”

UNISON Bolton secretary Bernie Gallagher said having a public debate about the changes is “crucial”.

She said: “This affects the most vulnerable people in the borough. It’s a service that is so valuable and well-received by the people who get it. So, at the very, very least, it ought to be a public debate.

“We’re hoping that people recognise the value of the service, not just in terms of its cost, but its nutritional value. So we’re hoping they will scrap the proposals and look at building the service.”

Rachel Tanner, deputy director of people, promised to brief community meals drivers and users on the proposals before the debate takes place.

Meals on Wheels protest

She said: “For the safeguarding of relevant people and our staff, I welcome the opportunity to brief our staff and service users, in discussions with trade unions, on the proposals the decision is made on.”

Speaking after the meeting, Labour councillor Nick Peel said: “It’s a positive move that the council’s made in agreeing with Labour that this huge review should be discussed in public in an open and transparent way.”

Cllr Andy Morgan, executive cabinet members for adult services, said: “In the spirit of the open and transparent aspiration of the leader of the council and the cabinet, I look forward to having the opportunity to explain fully how and why I and the cabinet came to the decision we did with regards to this proposal.

“In the interim, the deputy director of people will be asked to brief the staff and service users affected by this proposal, along with our union colleagues, which in turn will allow a full and open debate at council.”