CARE providers have vowed to keep bills for Middlewich's elderly population low - despite plans to increase care costs by about 80%.
Alongside an 87% hike in day care costs to £25 per day, Cheshire County Council's Conservative administration announced a 78% rise in home care charges to £16.46 per hour and a 71% jump in travel charges in its budget for 2006-7.
Care providers have responded with dismay at the increases - but have promised to work with one another to keep prices as low as possible for their vital services.
Anne Benson of Middlewich's Age Concern said: 'Some council services look like increasing by a terrific amount and such increases could hit elderly people in Middlewich very hard.
'People have to remember that many older people live alone. They enjoy the company required by carers and require some assistance - even if only every so often. They only have a fixed income - they won't be able to get a pay increase or rely on bonus payments and this could seriously affect some of them.
Ms Benson's group runs a day centre at St Mary's Parish Centre on King Street, which provides company and meals for older Middlewich residents. She said: 'We have a very good relationship with the centre and we are fortunate that our costs are low. We plan to keep our prices down, but it would not be possible for us to cover the increases.'
Cllr Pam Farrell, scheme manager at Bembridge Court retirement flats, said: 'Any rise in price for important community services is horrendous and even worse when they hit such a vulnerable group. I hope no-one feels that they can't afford to receive the care they need.
'All the agencies in Middlewich, including ourselves and Age Concern, are willing to help find ways to help. Each case is very different, so we can't come up with a single remedy that fits every potential problem. But we will look at each person who needs help and see what we can do.'
Cheshire's opposition parties were quick to criticise the increases from the Tory-run administration, but Middlewich's Conservative MP Ann Winterton argued that the blame lay in Westminster.
She said: 'The rises are absolutely appalling but have been forced on us because the Government is not funding rural areas like Cheshire as well as they are metropolitan councils.
'Cheshire County Council is trying hard to invest in and support services so as not to impact too strongly on vulnerable groups, but they are £15m short thanks to the Government.'