Thursday, 6 February 2014
Rural bus services "saved" (for now) as County Council backs down after massive public protest
Campaigners against proposed swingeing cuts to rural bus cuts across Lancashire are celebrating after the County Council, facing huge public outcry, announced it had backed down on the plans.
Instead of cutting the entire £3.8 million subsidy for what it claims are loss-making evening and weekend services, which service both rural areas and local council estates, the council says it will now review the threatened 72 routes across the County - and demand operators pay more to keep “lifeline” services running.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to hear that,” said campaigner Ursula Gallie, who gathered a 1300-strong petition protesting at the planned cuts that would have had a major impact on bus services and users in the Lune Valley.
The Lancashire Evening Post reports that County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, revealed the switch had come about after a programme of public consultation meetings demonstrated the strength of feeling against subsidy cuts, which included criticism from MPs such as Lancaster's Eric Ollerenshaw and Morecambe's David Morris.
“Coun Fillis said he would listen and it looks like he has," said Ursula. It’s a victory of a kind for us, although we are still a bit nervous about what will happen next.”
Campaigners argued the cuts were a false economy and would inflict hardship on night workers no longer able to get to work, and both the young and elderly.
However, Councillor David Borrow, deputy leader of the council has sounded a note of caution, warning it cannot continue to give millions of pounds to subsidise the profits of companies running these routes.
“We need a new deal for Lancashire,” he said.
"I am delighted that Councillor Fillis has worked closely with colleagues across the county, myself and other parties to listen to all of our concerns about the future of the bus services in Lancashire including Morecambe and Lunesdale," commented Amina Lone, Morecambe's Labour Party candidate for the next General Election, who had circulated her own petition protesting at the Government funding cuts that led the County Council to consider the service cuts in the first place.
"I have been listening to residents who have told me, " she continued. "They are genuinely scared about the impact any cuts will have on the elderly and the isolated in our communities, especially in our rural communities. I have fought hard to ensure we protect residents and am very happy no blanket removal of subsidies will take place."
This is a welcome about face from the Labour Party since the cuts proposal was made, with their councillors arguing publicly that they had no choice in the matter, given the £300 million cuts in funding the County faced.
"I am confident, we can work together to look for solutions now and in the future to mitigate this funding crisis and protect our communities," says Amina. "We are all in agreement that a quality sustainable and cost effective transport network is key to the social and economical well being of our areas."
• Read the Lancashire Evening Post article, which includes a fiull statement by Councillor Fillis, here