Changes to school catchment areas
A decision to reduce some subsidised bus services to help balance the city council’s books has been criticised by opposition leaders.
The cash-strapped council is planning to end or reduce “under-used” Sunday evening and Bank Holiday Monday services which it currently subsidises Stagecoach to run.
The cut, announced in the authority’s latest set of budget proposals, amounts to £150,00 of a current spend of £715,000 for subsidising “commercially unviable” bus routes.
The move will help the council make nearly £11.5 million of savings as it responds to huge pressures on its finances as a result of a £45 million reduction in its government grant and millions of pounds of rising pressures from looking after children and adults in care.
Other budget measures announced last Friday at 5pm include saving around £1 million from a remodelling of adult social care, an overhaul of the council’s IT system and plans to change school catchment areas.
The council has yet to reveal which bus routes will be affected by the cuts, but said one of them currently costs £9 per person to subsidise.
However, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group Cllr Nick Sandford described the subsidy as good value for money.
He said: “The bus subsidy cuts in this budget are deeply worrying. Currently we have an integrated network of roughly hourly evening services that has operated for nearly 40 years, and enables people to make trips across the city for work and leisure.
“Cutsonthescaleproposed will destroy the network and cause real hardship to thousands of city residents.”
Green party councillor Julie Howell said cutting the subsidy, and proposals in the budget to remove a vacant Environment Capital role at the council, fly in the face of the authority’s green aspirations.
She added: “An ‘underused’ service is not necessarily a useless service. For many people who rely on buses, frequent and predictable services are key to the maintenance of independence, and good physical and mental health.
“These services are not about filling capacity, they exist to provide a safety net for those who do not drive cars, and it is right that the council should subsidise them.”
But, Cabinet member for resources Cllr David Seaton said: “Quite frankly the routes are not being used much, and a substantial amount of money is being spent.”
Speaking on the budget as a whole,councilleaderCllrJohn Holdich said: “It most certainly is a bold plan. Through sharing services with nearby authorities like Cambridgeshire County Council and remodeling teams to make sure they work in the most effective way possible, we are continuing to drive efficiencies.”
Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz said: “These cuts are deep, far reaching and should be unnecessary if the Conservative Government funded local government properly. The approach is one of managing decline as opposed to building the city of the future.”
The council’s finances have been hit by £6 million of additional pressures in the last six months. The vast majority of that is due to having more children in care. The current proposals are for the 2019/20 budget which is being produced in three sections spread out over a year.
The first tranche of proposals agreed back in July included setting up separate parking and environmental crime enforcement teams.
Should the latest savings be agreed at Full Council in December, that will leave another £3 million of savings to be made before next April. To comment on the proposals, visit the council’s website or pick up the budget and a questionnaire at the Town Hall or Bayard Place receptions, or from any of the city libraries. The catchment areas for primary and secondary schools in Peterborough are set to change. The budget document includes plans to review the catchment areas to “ensure shorter routes” for children going to school. This is expected to save the council up to £50,000 a year from a reduction in transporting children to school. The council said it has not started formally analysing how catchment areas will change. Another proposal is to make an extra £10,000 a year from unauthorised absences. The council wants to bring in an extra person to respond to a rise in requests from schools to issue penalty
‘The bus subsidy cuts in this budget are deeply worrying’
notices where parents remove their children from school for an unauthorised leave of absence. Moreover, the council expects to save £40,000 a year by offering more staff the chance to take either unpaid leave or annual leave on December 27, 28 and 31. This is different to Cambridgeshire County Council which said last week it is forcing all but the lowest paid staff to take three days of unpaid leave on those days to help cut its deficit.
The city council will also now allow staff in its People and Communities department to work during school term times only, with a lower salary.
Cllr Nick Sandford
Cllr David Seaton with a copy of the budget
A Stagecoach bus in operation