Threat to buses as coun­cils fear loom­ing £5bn short­fall

Daily Express - - NEWS - By Sarah O’Grady

AL­MOST half of Eng­land’s bus routes are in jeop­ardy from na­tional fund­ing cuts, town halls have warned.

Cuts could leave many peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly pen­sion­ers, iso­lated and lo­cal author­i­ties can­not af­ford to con­tinue to sub­sidise bus firms.

Nearly half of all routes in Eng­land re­ceive par­tial or com­plete sub­si­dies from coun­cils but the Lo­cal Govern­ment As­so­ci­a­tion said they are strug­gling as over­all fund­ing is ex­pected to be £5bil­lion short by 2020.

The as­so­ci­a­tion said coun­cils are also spend­ing at least £200mil­lion a year to sub­sidise free passes for the el­derly and dis­abled.

The con­ces­sions come at the cost of other dis­cre­tionary sub­sidised bus ser­vices such as free peak travel, com­mu­nity trans­port and post-16 school trans­port and ser­vices such as col­lect­ing bins and fill­ing pot­holes.

Coun­cil­lors want con­trol over the Bus Ser­vice Op­er­a­tors Grant, a fuel duty re­bate paid di­rectly to op­er­a­tors. They say this would en­able them to pro­tect vi­tal routes and give them fund­ing they need.

Cllr Martin Tett, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s trans­port spokesman, said: “Buses pro­vide a vi­tal ser­vice for our com­mu­ni­ties and a life­line for our most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents. It’s nearly im­pos­si­ble to keep sub­si­dis­ing free travel while hav­ing to find bil­lions of pounds of sav­ings and pro­tect other vi­tal ser­vices.

“Faced with sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing pres­sures, many across the coun­try are be­ing forced into tak­ing dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to scale back ser­vices and re­view sub­sidised routes.

“The way the con­ces­sion­ary travel scheme is funded has not kept up with grow­ing de­mand and cost. Coun­cils are be­ing forced to sub­sidise the scheme by at least £200mil­lion a year.

“By giv­ing coun­cils con­trol over the Bus Ser­vice Op­er­a­tors Grant, and prop­erly fund­ing na­tional free bus pass schemes, the Govern­ment could help us main­tain our es­sen­tial bus ser­vices.”

The op­er­at­ing cost per pas­sen­ger jour­ney out­side Lon­don in­creased by 6p between 2012-13 and 2016-17, which rep­re­sents a to­tal op­er­at­ing cost of just over £3bil­lion.

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