Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Lifeline bus u-turn welcome but questions still remain

Cornwall Council has performed a very welcome u-turn and has decided not to cut local bus routes. The previous plan was to save money to cover a shortfall in the current budget by cutting many lifeline routes which are relied on by people to get to work, college or to see family and friends. More than a quarter of supported routes looked set to disappear within a couple of months.

This reversal is, of course, very good news. But there are still questions concerning the routes where no tenders have been received and how this scheme is being paid for. We are also concerned that there is no certainty for the network beyond the next election and no plan for how the network can be expanded.

This u-turn has only come about because of the huge opposition from local communities and the campaign led by Cornwall Liberal Democrats. We highlighted the damage that the original proposal would do to local communities and the unfair criteria by which the potential cuts were selected. Local campaign groups have sprung up across Cornwall to save their local services.

But the fact that the Conservatives could have considered such a massive cut to the bus network shows that their priorities are all wrong. They simply do not understand that buses are essential for people to get to work or to college, to see family and friends or even to get to hospital.

Cornwall Liberal Democrats would guarantee that we won't cut any supported local bus routes in Cornwall and we will be working with local communities to identify how to expand the network. Cornwall Council has a vision for better local transport, but the current administration seems determined to ignore that vision.

Although the number is not revealed in the Cabinet papers, I am told that there are seven routes which cannot be re-tendered at this time either because the bid came in too late or the price asked for was 'ridiculously high'. I also understand that there were technical issues with one operator which meant that the bids made by them couldn't be awarded. Four of these are in the former North Cornwall, two in the former Caradon area and one in former Restormel. Council officers say they are "confident that they will get tenders in and that services will run" but until the tenders are awarded there will remain a degree of concern.

Perhaps the bigger concern is that this is merely a series of cuts delayed. The Cabinet papers state categorically:
"That the Cabinet notes that the new arrangements are for two years only, and that further efficiencies and new ways of delivering services will need to continue to be developed."
So local buses are safe until after the next election. But after that the Council is quite clear that there will need to be another review and further efficiencies will need to be found. That is because saving the bus routes is set to cost £1.2 million a year which is coming mainly by delaying repaying the current year's over-spend.

Which brings us back to how we got into this mess in the first place - a hole in the budget that none of the administration thought was significant and didn't bother to do anything about until halfway through the year.

No comments: