A TRANSPORT service for disadvantaged people in and around Upton could be up and running by the New Year.

The Countryside Agency has increased the available grant for the Dial-a-Ride service from £7,500 to £13,000, which can only be released if funding is found from elsewhere.

Worcestershire County Council has indicated that it will step in to match the amount, which would provide a total of £26,000 to purchase a minibus and cover day-to-day running costs.

Upton Town Council had originally tried to provide the extra funding by applying for a different type of grant, which also came from the Countryside Agency. But it was told the agency could not match grant funding with its own cash.

Coun Simon Wilkinson welcomed the latest news.

"It's a very good thing indeed," he said.

"We were all very disappointed when it looked as though we would not be able to set the scheme up. Now we can, it'll be a very positive thing for Upton."

Two jobs, probably part-time, for a co-ordinator and driver, will be created.

The scheme will be available for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to use the bus service. A minibus will be sent to pick them up from their houses, as long as the driver is given 24 hours' notice.

Community First, which will run the service, will be legally obliged to charge the equivalent of a bus fare.

Grenville Sheringham, manager of the Malvern Hills Rural Transport Partnership, through which the Countryside Agency will administer the cash, said it would be great news for many people in the area.

"It will provide a personal service, as the drivers will get to know the customers," he said.

"Every time a Dial-a-Ride service is set up, people come out who have not been able to get out of their homes for two or three months.

"Help the Aged and Age Concern know about these people but they can't do anything to help them because they don't have the resources."