Today's bus services inquiry day at County Hall was really useful with a good turnout from councillors, bus companies, user groups and officers - in fact everyone except the Cabinet member responsible, Graeme Hicks.
We had presentations from the bus companies which all pretty much said the same thing - they don't make huge profits and if the reimbursement rate is cut then they will have to cut services. They also made it clear that they are prepared to try to make some savings without having an impact on the route network but they can only do this if they are properly consulted by the Council.
Early on there was a very apt description of what the Council is planning when a representative from Group Travel (based in Bodmin and the operators of Launceston's town bus service) described Cllr Hicks' proposed cuts as 'the Beeching of the Bus Routes'.
We heard from community bus operators (including the Launceston Little Red Bus) who said that if the reimbursement rate is cut then they would have to cease providing services, and that the Government gave £368,000 to Cornwall for the development of community transport but the council spent the money on other things.
We heard from officers that 'we don't know the impact of the cuts until we make them' - a horrific admission that actually Cornwall Council is operating blind. It appears that officers in the transport department don't talk to those in the education department to find out what the likely impact would be on their budgets if these cuts are forced through. Could the impact of cutting buses mean even more spending on taxis?
There was a lot of concern expressed about the procedure that has been followed here. If the Council has known about the likely shortfall in budget since February, why did they only issue a diktat demand to the bus operators a few weeks ago? Why was today's meeting the first opportunity for councillors to discuss this issue and why was scrutiny sidelined again?
We asked for a full equality and economic impact assessment on each proposed (or possible) cut because the impact will be different for different routes.
Finally, what is the impact of these cuts on the council's long-term transport plan LTP3 - Connecting Cornwall? The bus operators made it clear that they cannot stop and start routes at the drop of a hat and if a bus route is cut then it is not likely to reappear. When we are meant to be building our route network, why are we starting off by cutting it.