Council cuts crisis continues

Plans to cut bus subsidy continue, as local authorities are in the process of agreeing budgets for 2014/15. Among those who have already announced their plans to cut bus services is Transport for Greater Manchester, which said it is cutting £7.1m from its support for buses (including school buses) for 2014/15. North Yorkshire County Council has plans to cut £2m from support for buses this year, with more to come next year. There has been significant opposition to this. On announcing the proposed cuts, County Council Deputy Leader, Carl Les, said, ‘We are all very conscious of the potential that these reductions have for people in very rural areas, in terms of isolation and loneliness. These issues are very much in our minds, and we will do all we can to mitigate them.’

Cumbria County Council plans to cut the council’s entire £1.9m budget for supported bus services, which has been vocally opposed by local MP, Rory Stewart. Dorset County Council conducted a public consultation into cutting £850,000 from its supported bus budget. There was public hostility to the plans with 1,200 people responding to the consultation.

Essex County Council has yet to make public the outcome of a consultation into plans to cut £2.5m from its supported bus budget. The consultation is understood to have received in the region of 2,000 responses. Nottinghamshire County Council has announced proposals to cut £1.8m from supported bus budgets from August 2014. The outcome of the consultation is scheduled to be made public in February. West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, Centro, is proposing to cut 25% of its discretionary budget by 2015. This equates to an overall £14m reduction in spending with an unconfirmed amount cut from its supported bus budgets. The Welsh Assembly is proposing to reduce the concessionary fare reimbursement for bus operators from 74% of the average fare to 46% from 1 April 2014.

Worcestershire County Council has planned to remove all £3m funding for bus services from April 2014, which Bus Users UK described as ‘unprecedented’. A consultation on this attracted 8,500 responses. A spokesperson from Bus Users UK said, ‘If these cuts were to be fully implemented, many communities across Kidderminster, Droitwich, Redditch and even parts of Worcester would be cut off from essential services. The 1985 Transport Act places a clear responsibility on local authorities to provide transport for socially necessary services. Withdrawing bus subsidies across the whole county would leave many villages, even a number of larger towns, with no public transport at all. This would inevitably lead to increased social isolation among people already living in areas that are struggling economically. It is inconceivable that such sweeping cuts to subsidies in an area like Worcestershire, with its mix of rural communities and pockets of urban deprivation, will do anything but add to levels of social hardship.’

As part of its efforts to curb these cuts, Campaign for Better Transport has called on central Government to take action to protect bus services. The body has suggested short term funding to protect services and introducing minimum public transport access standards to facilities such as hospitals, colleges and areas of employment. It believes a new approach to funding should be put in place, with access to key facilities and services paid for by pooled funding from across those departments that benefit from good bus services. This would be ring-fenced and distributed to local transport authorities. It also encouraged the planning of long term investment for buses, which it believes would give the industry and local authorities certainty and help plan investment in vehicles and infrastructure. It also believes the Government should seek to grow the number of bus users by fully funding concessionary travel for younger and older people.

Campaign for Better Transport has published a new interactive online map detailing the cuts to support for buses across England and Wales, together with contact details for local campaigns. Public Transport Campaigner, Campaign for Better Transport, Martin Abrams, said, ‘There is real public anger about the large number of services under threat, leaving many thousands without vital transport links. We need immediate action from Central Government to protect services and stop networks disappearing from April.’

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