Friday, 7 February 2014

County Council issues statement on bus cut climbdown

Council leader Jennifer Mein: " The county
council will still listen to residents' views"
Lancashire County Council has issued a full statement on its decision not to withdraw, wholesale, its million subsidy for 72 bus services across the county, which included vital evening and weekend bus routes in the Lune Valley, Heysham and several Lancaster council estates.

Under the proposals, Lancashire County Council would have reduced support for buses during the evenings and on Sundays to focus on maintaining daytime services. It says the Around £2m would have been saved over two years by reducing council subsidies to bus companies.

(For comparison, in December the BBC reported that the County Council committed to £8 million in spending on refurbishing Preston Bus Station, and final costs to bring it up to "modern standards" might be over £17 million).

Facing huge public outcry at the proposed cuts the county council's cabinet agreed on Thursday that it would amend the proposals and to work with bus companies to reorganise their services.

These budget proposals, which no longer include withdrawing evening and Sunday services, will be considered at a meeting of the full council on 20th February.

Speaking after the meeting, county council leader Jennifer Mein said: "What this shows is that, although we are dealing with an extremely difficult financial situation, the county council will still listen to residents' views and that we will think creatively when we're looking for ways to reduce our spending."

Campaigners argue the proposals were far from "creative" and would have impacted on night workers, the elderly and the young and resulted in fury and several online petitions, created by worried campaigners of several different political persuasions.

"Central government is severely cutting our funding and we've got no option other than to reduce county council expenditure by £300m in the next four years," Councillor Mein pointed out.

"This is forcing us to make some very unpalatable decisions; but the reality is that if we don't make cuts, we will be in a much worse situation than we are now.

"However, despite the financial situation, the county council is still doing lots of positive things across Lancashire. For instance, we've just started building work on a new youth zone in Skelmersdale and are about to open two more in Rossendale and Burnley.

"I'd like to thank everyone involved with the budget consultation and I hope this demonstrates that we do try to take residents' views into account."

David Borrow: "While this proposal would
have saved £2m, we recognise that, in
its original form, it wasn't popular,"
The perhaps aptly named David Borrow, deputy leader of the county council and cabinet member for finance, added: "Since we launched the formal budget consultation on 9th January, we've had quite a few responses. It's no secret that the proposal to withdraw bus subsidies during the evenings and on Sundays attracted considerable public interest."

It would be interesting to learn just how many responses the County had and, perhaps, their (suitably censored in some cases) content - in the same way that our own city council publishes concerns about planning applications.

"While this proposal would have saved £2m, we recognise that, in its original form, it wasn't popular," Councillor Borrow continued. "We are therefore going to work with the bus companies to establish whether we can achieve savings in a different way in the future.

"Owing to reductions in funding from central government, we are facing a colossal financial challenge. Whichever way you look at it, we will have to make massive cuts to vital services.

"This isn't what I came into politics for, but we'll do everything we can to maintain essential services and to reduce the impact of the cuts on vulnerable people."

Under the budget proposals, the county council will spend £757.466m in the financial year 2014/15. It is also proposed that the county council's element of council tax will rise by 1.99%.

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