Latest Public Sector News

04.02.16

Council leaders call for fully funded concessionary bus fares

Fears raised by new research about upcoming £27m cuts to local bus services have prompted new calls from council leaders for fully funded concessionary fares.

The research, from the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT), focuses on cuts to supported bus services – services subsidised by local authorities because they are not commercially viable for private operators to provide – which account for 20-25% of bus services and serve communities with no alternative.

The CBT study shows that the proposed cuts to supported bus services across 11 local authorities in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 financial years will total £27.3m.

Cllr Peter Box, transport spokesman for the LGA and leader of Wakefield Council, said: “We have long called for the concessionary fares scheme to be fully funded to ease the pressure on stretched council budgets and protect cherished bus services.

“Councils have a statutory duty to provide free off-peak travel for elderly and disabled residents through the concessionary fares scheme. It provides a lifeline for our most vulnerable residents to go shopping, pick up medication, attend doctor appointments or socialise with friends. However, these bus services are now under real threat.

“Years of underfunding of the scheme have forced councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to subsidise it. This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins.

“Councils know how important buses are for their communities and local economies and are desperate to protect them. Instead, many across the country are reluctantly taking difficult decisions to scale back services and review subsidised routes as a result.”

The LGA previously called for the concessionary scheme to be fully funded as part of a broader “total overhaul” of bus funding before the Spending Review last year. It also says the fuel rebate duty given to operators, known as the Bus Service Operators’ Grant, should be paid directly to councils.

The CBT research shows that the local authority with the biggest proposed cuts is Lancashire County Council, with £7.5m, followed by Wiltshire Council with £5.1m.

The council that covers transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s own constituency,  Derbyshire County Council, has proposed £4.8m cuts.

CBT has also launched an interactive online map, based on its recent ‘Buses in Crisis’ report, showing the scale of cuts to bus services by local authorities in England and Wales since 2010.

The campaign group made FoI requests to all 82 local transport authorities in England, the six transport authorities responsible for public transport within large urban areas, and all 22 single-tier authorities in Wales, which uncovered cuts totaling £78m since 2010.

As a result of cuts, more than 2,400 bus services have been reduced, altered or withdrawn from service. Additionally, 63% of local authorities in England and Wales have cut funding for bus services in 2015-16, with 44% reducing or withdrawing services entirely.

The CBT’s Martin Abrams said: “This new research shows that up and down the country utterly devastating cuts are now being inflicted on our vital bus services, on a par with the swinging and misguided cuts the government and Dr Beeching made to our rail network which decimated services back in the 1960s.

“It is a bitter irony that many of the bus services being cut today are historic services that replaced the thousands of rail services that were cut by Dr Beeching, meaning more and more areas now have no public transport at all. Following six years of huge reductions in grants from central government, local authorities are being forced into making ever deeper cuts to bus funding and there is real public outrage about the large number of bus services under threat. With the government’s promised Buses Bill on the horizon, ministers must explain exactly how this Bill will help people and communities, particularly in rural and isolated areas, stay connected.”

The government says the Buses Bill will make it easier for local transport authorities to franchise networks of bus services in the same way as Transport for London.

But Abrams warned: “Whilst the Buses Bill will enable much needed improvements for people in metropolitan areas, there is increasing worry and uncertainty as to what the future holds for bus users in non-metropolitan areas and with the scale of cuts we are now seeing, urgent action must be taken by the government to ensure buses have the funding they need and deserve.”

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