Ministers plan £340k cut to South Glos bus budget

The ConservativesConservative councillors have slammed the Government after it revealed plans to slash South Gloucestershire Council’s bus budget by £340,000.

The funding cut is proposed as part of plans announced recently by the Department for Transport (DfT) to change the distribution of funding for the national concessionary travel scheme for the 2010/11 financial year. At £340k, this is the biggest loss for any council outside London.

This unexpected cut is despite the fact that 2010/11 will be the third year of a supposedly 3 year funding settlement that was designed to provide certainty for councils.

The national concessionary travel scheme, which provides free bus travel for older residents, should be government-funded, however South Gloucestershire Council already has to use £1.1m of local money to support the scheme.

A further £340k cut in central funding would take the annual shortfall up to nearly £1.5m.

The funding cut throws into doubt council plans to pilot-test ‘demand-responsive’ bus services to serve many of the district’s rural communities.

Cllr Brian Allinson, South Gloucestershire’s Conservative transport chief, has slammed the cut, saying:

“We support the free bus scheme because it has benefited many local elderly and disabled people. But the government is failing to ensure the scheme is fully funded in total and at individual council level.

The council is already using £1.1m of council tax payers’ money to cover insufficient government funding for the scheme – now we face the prospect of this shortfall jumping to nearly £1.5m because Ministers will not honour their three year funding settlement..

When you consider that we are already one of the lowest funded councils of our kind in the country, a last minute funding cut of this enormous scale is deeply unfair.”

He added:

“This cut calls into question our plans to further improve public transport opportunities in the district, particularly the introduction of new demand-responsive bus services to serve our rural residents.

I urge residents to join with the council in urging Ministers not to go ahead with their plans because, at this stage, I cannot see anyway that the Council could simply absorb such a massive and sudden funding cut.”

Cllr Sandra Grant, Conservative councillor for the rural Boyd Valley ward which includes the villages of Dyrham, Hinton and Doynton, said:

“Demand-led bus services would have a useful role to play in filling the long-standing public transport gap that has existed in our rural areas for years.

It is hugely disappointing that just as the Council attempts to introduce such innovative new services; Government ministers are pulling the funding rug out from underneath them.

I hope Ministers back down from forcing through this damaging funding cut.”

The DfT consultation closes on 30 December 2009.

Source: Conservative Group on South Gloucestershire Council

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