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Bus cutbacks in Westcountry reach critical level as harsh austerity bites

By WMN_PGoodwin  |  Posted: December 16, 2013

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Cuts to bus services have reached critical levels in parts of the Westcountry

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Cuts to bus services have reached critical levels with parts of the Westcountry reducing spending by as much as a quarter.

Passengers in rural areas and small towns have been warned to expect further cuts to timetables and the removal of local bus services.

Almost half of all councils in the UK have cut bus funding in response to a reduction in government grants.

Torbay has reduced its spending this year by 25%, according to the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), who also said Cornwall had axed almost a fifth, though the council says the figure is only 5%.

Plymouth City Council said they have not made any reductions this year, as did Devon County Council, though it said there were plans to save £762,000 (4.8%) in the next financial year, 2014/15.

Martin Abrams, of the CBT, said local bus services faced “a watershed moment”.

“Cuts to bus services are reaching critical levels,” he said. “If Government doesn’t take action to help support buses, we will see whole networks disappear.

“They may not be as politically sexy as big transport projects but they make a significant difference to the economy, the environment and to wider society.”

Research by the campaign shows that 47 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales have cut spending on buses this year.

Councils in England cut £17 million from their bus support grants this year and have announced cuts of £48 million in years to come.

Peter Box, chairman of the Local Government Association economy and transport board, said: “Councils know how important local bus services are to their communities and have been working hard to protect them where possible.

“However, they are contending with 43 per cent budget cuts, reductions to bus-related grants and the spiralling cost of the concessionary travel scheme which government has never properly funded. Many councils can’t afford to subsidise bus companies to operate unprofitable routes at the levels they did.

“Where bus companies stop running services, councils will look at other ways of helping people who used them.”

Torbay, a Conservative authority led by the region’s only elected mayor, Gordon Oliver, has been struggling to pass on grant cuts and is currently attempting to slice £22million from spending next year.

It said it had almost halved its spending since the Coalition cuts began.

"In 2010/11 subsidies cost Torbay Council £210,532 but this has reduced over the years as bus routes have become commercial to a budget of £106,000 this financial year,” a spokesman said.

“One of the proposals for next year's budget is a review of subsidised transport, but these are draft budget proposals and no decisions have yet been made.”

Plymouth’s Labour-controlled city council said the bus subsidy budget has not been cut this year.

A spokesman said: “We actively promote bus travel as a sustainable mode of transport and currently support 14 services, offering links that would otherwise not exist.”

Tory Devon County Council said it has also not touched the budget for concessionary bus travel, public and community transport, this financial year but ‘unprecedented’ cuts are under consultation.

Cornwall Council, which is run by an Independent and Liberal Democrat coalition, rejected the 19% figure shown in the CBT report as ‘not accurate’, placing the figure at 5%

The authority said revenue support for bus services in 2013/4 will be £3.65m, excluding the contributions from schools transport and payments for concessionary fares.

This compares with £3.87m for 2012/2013, a reduction of 5.7% and not 19% as stated in the CBT report, a spokesman said.

Bert Biscoe, the council’s cabinet member for transportation and waste, said “We certainly agree that there is a need to reconsider the way in which the Government provides support to fund local bus services. Cornwall is currently re-tendering its supported bus network and we very much hope that operators recognise that, as well as facing increased costs themselves, the relationship in Cornwall between subsidised routes and commercial ones is often crucial to keeping access going.”

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18 comments

  • DipStick  |  December 17 2013, 9:51AM

    Back to the buses .... "in theory" privatisation is good as it creates competition etc etc. You all know the theory. However in certain cases things should stay in "our" control (the governments, that is, 'us', the people) such as power and water provision. In the case of buses it's more difficult as the whole thing has been botched by having it run "privately" but having massive public subsidies poured in so we're no better off. In fact the "private" companies probably just see it as a massive money making exercise using "our" money! But then people winge that services are being cut, but why? Because people aren't using the service in enough numbers. But perversely you see most buses outside of rush hour/school terms running nearly empty ... hmmm. No real solutions from me just musing aloud .... Just saying that things aren't black and white in this case. DS

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  • RedThumbs  |  December 17 2013, 9:17AM

    Yes it's simple really, if you don't like the mess the con-lib-lab pact of the last 50 years have dumped us in then don't vote for any of these middle class career politicians. They will all three be on TV soon cattling like children in a live TV debate designed purely to exclude any other parties and let you think you only have 3 choices. With a nice complicate media in tow.

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  • D-Head  |  December 17 2013, 7:46AM

    #nickthompson. Re your earlier posting about the three parties and not being able to get a cigarette paper between them. You are, of course, spot on. As far as I can see at least half of Red Ed's team were also in the Bliar/Brown team - so nothing will change if they get back. That's why I'll be voting UKIP next time round. Bit by bit our once great nation is being flogged off and services we once enjoyed vanish along the way. If we can't even a provide a couple of clean toilets in our towns, the end is coming sooner than we think.

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  • josdave  |  December 16 2013, 11:11PM

    Why should the government care about rural communities? There are not so many votes there. And Cornwall Council is not much better wasting money on useless projects, subsidising private concerns like the airport and Eden, while at the same time cutting subsidised to rural bus services.

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  • theDisabled  |  December 16 2013, 7:25PM

    If you want all the benefits of a city then live in a city, if you want rural isolation live in rural isolation. But then don't complain you aren't getting everything, that's just being greedy little piggie.

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  • hereandthere  |  December 16 2013, 6:16PM

    If you want Council Tax freezes or rises limited, if you want lower taxes, if you want across the board government (local and national) budget cuts to have those things; then what you have to expect are fewer and fewer services. But, are we really becoming any better off, or are we being conned? All in it together?

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  • Truro_England  |  December 16 2013, 4:27PM

    Is it right for public money to be spent on buses which only pick up a few people each week? I feel for the people who live in these very isolated villages but I don't, so why should I contribute towards their bus service. I have a friend who is a bus driver, he drives a route in West Cornwall and goes for miles without picking anyone up.

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  • DickShafter  |  December 16 2013, 4:08PM

    No one has the right to be picked up by a bus and dropped off where they want. Isolated rural villages are isolated and rural by their nature. This brings good points and bad points. If you need someone to drive you about and attend to your every whim then move somewhere less isolated or pay for private services. You'll expect your nose to be whiped for you whilst on benefits next.

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  • Sinjis_Things  |  December 16 2013, 3:04PM

    Typical, The local much needed buses get subsidies cutback while it's proposed to give MPs an 11% pay rise. Also Ian Duncan Smith has wasted millions trying, vainly, to reform the benefit system.

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  • bayman1  |  December 16 2013, 12:58PM

    BrixhamDes, There are 12 and 16 seater wheelchair friendly buses made, I was on one at Kendal last October, the wheelchair is put on a lift at the back, also how meny wheel chair users are turned away because of buggies or shopping trollys in the wheelcfhair space?, I've seen 3 turned away this year. Yes and why are we still giving aid to China and India?

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