Friday, 20 December 2013

Consultation begins on proposed cuts to local evening and Sunday bus services

Eric Ollerenshaw
Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw has raised concerns about Lancashire County Council's proposal to make massive cuts to evening and Sunday bus services in the House of Commons.

The Labour-run County Council, which is consulting on the plan, says it will save £3.8m over the next two years by withdrawing subsidies which enable the services to operate, which Mr Ollerenshaw says will affect most of the villages and outlying council estates in the Lancaster area.

Bus services to Freehold, the Ridge the Marsh and Vale estates in Lancaster and Skerton, Heysham, Morecambe, Carnforth, Hest Bank Railway Station (yes, this is ironic, isn't it?), Bolton-le-Sands and Overton are among those that would be lost if the plan goes ahead.

Perhaps forgetting it was a previous Tory government that privatised bus services, he suggested a serious review of the need to maintain vital bus services for rural and difficult-to-reach areas was overdue.

Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of Sate for Transport, acknowledged Mr Ollerenshaw had made a vaild point.

"The truth is that, while we have seen a huge amount of growth in the railways, more people are using buses every single day, particularly in rural areas and rural communities, which rely on bus services," he says. "My honorable Friend raises important issues and his ideas certainly merit further consideration."

Announcing the proposal which would affect 72 services from May if approved, the County Council, which is now consulting on the idea, says it would focus on "maintaining daytime services" and invest more in Dial-A-Ride community transport.

The consultation comes as national charity Campaign for Better Transport warned that bus cuts across the country are hitting “critical levels”.

"In some parts of the country, cuts to bus services are now reaching critical levels," says the campaign group. "Our new research shows how entire networks of bus services are at risk of collapse. The report Buses in crisis reveals 47 per cent of local authorities reducing their support for buses for 2013 with a number threatening to remove all support in the next financial year.

"If Government doesn’t take action to help support buses we will see whole networks disappear."

Cuts vital as government funding cuts bite

The proposals are just part of the County Council's budget proposals for 2014 to save  £300m over the next four years due to central government funding cuts.

Four-fifths of bus services in Lancashire are run by private companies such as Stagecoach on a commercial basis because they are profitable. The remaining 20 per cent are not commercially viable and are currently subsidised by some £8 million annually by the county council. The proposal suggests that subsides be withdrawn from 72 evening and Sunday services from 18th May 2014, but would continue to 103 bus services which operate during the day.

However, each subsidy would be reviewed on a case by case basis when its current contract expires to ensure it remains sustainable.

Any withdrawals will take place during the middle of 2014 so for the meantime all these services are continuing to run as normal.

"This proposal would maintain the bulk of that spending," argues  County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, "while saving £1.8m next year and £2m a year after that, by focusing on subsidising routes during the day when they are most used by people going about their business."

"I'm fully aware that the withdrawal of any bus service would have an impact upon the people who use it," he added.

"These are proposals at this stage and no decision will be taken without carefully considering the results of this consultation."
Despite the proposal to cut subsidies, the County Council hopes to soften the blow with an additional £500,000 investment in community transport such as dial-a-ride services.

“We would never have chosen to be in this financial situation," Mr Fillis told the Lancashire Evening Post, "but we have to find ways to drastically reduce our budget.

"Our first priority is to safeguard the most vulnerable members of society, but to achieve this we have to look at everything we do.”

• The consultation period ends on 10 January with the 2014 budget decided at a full County Council meeting on 20 February. The county council would like to hear any comments you may have on the proposals that have been put forward:

Campaign for Better Transport "Save Our Buses" Camapign 

View the Campaign for Better Transport's interactive bus cuts map which makes transparent the extent of the problem of local authority funding cuts to buses. This map is a crowd sourcing project, which means the CBT are asking you to help us track bus cuts 

County Council documents on affected services (PDF links)


1 comment:

Ian Love said...

The County Council have to reduce their budget because the government has slashed central funding to them (and other coucils).
This is a direct consequence of choices the Government has made. Our MP, however, voted for the cuts to be imposed on Councils, and now wants to imply he is sympathetic to us when the cuts bite!!
It is very undesirable for all the reasons given above by locals, experts and politicians. I cannot imagine anyone thinks it desirable, possibly excepting taxi companies!