Bus subsidies slashed leaving less-used routes to close or cut back

 

Deputy Political Editor

Unprofitable bus routes are being scrapped or scaled back because of deep cuts in support from councils whose budgets are being squeezed, new figures disclose today.

Bus subsidies provided by major English councils have been slashed by 23 per cent in real terms since the Coalition came to office, according to a freedom of information response released by Labour. It blames the reduction on cuts in Whitehall grants to councils.

Northamptonshire has cut its backing by 55 per cent between 2010-11 and 2013-14, Suffolk by 50 per cent, Hertfordshire by 40 per cent and Gloucestershire by 34 per cent.

The FoI requests found shire councils had cut subsidies by an average of 23 per cent and unitary authorities by an average of 24 per cent.

The Local Government Association said councils were being forced to pare back their support for concessionary ticket schemes for the elderly and disabled because Government grants had fallen by 39 per cent since 2010.

Areas where the axe is being wielded include Leicestershire, where free travel for disabled passengers before 9.30am is being scrapped, Buckinghamshire, where spending on school transport is being cut, and Somerset, where 12 bus routes are threatened.

Hilary Benn, the shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “It couldn’t be clearer to local residents that vital front-line services are disappearing dramatically as cuts to councils intensify.

“David Cameron needs to get a grip and ensure elderly and disabled residents are able to get the bus to their local villages and towns and are not left stranded.”

Peter Box, the chair of the LGA’s economy and transport board, warned the concessionary fare scheme was in danger.

“Years of underfunding of the scheme forces councils to spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to subsidise the scheme,” he said. “This is now impossible with councils having to make savings while struggling to protect vital services like adult social care, protecting children, filling potholes and collecting bins.”

A government spokesman said: “We know rural bus services are vital, including for many older and disabled people. That is why the right to free travel is enshrined in law and Government provides funding to meet the cost of subsidising off-peak travel for these groups.”

Free bus travel in Scotland and Wales is paid for by the devolved administrations and is not affected by cuts in Whitehall subsidies.

However, Stagecoach announced yesterday it was reducing the size of its bus fleet in Wales, saying the move had been forced by “drastic” cuts in investment by the Welsh Assembly.

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