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Burntwood Labour councillor warns bus subsidy cuts will leave some residents isolated

Changes to bus subsidies will leave some residents isolated, a Burntwood Labour councillor has warned.

Staffordshire County Council has carried out a public consultation to decide how best to spend the £1.3million budgeted for routes deemed unprofitable for bus operators.

But Cllr Sue Woodward, opposition group leader at Staffordshire County Council said the proposed cut of 70% would leave some communities cut off.

Sue Woodward

Cllr Sue Woodward

“I’m dismayed that the Cabinet has failed to recognise the impacts of their proposals on communities across Staffordshire and on bus passengers.

“Labour councillors argued that the cuts would have a serious impact on bus users, particularly older people who need buses to maintain their independence and on young people accessing jobs, education and leisure opportunities.

“We believe it will prove to be a false economy, leaving people isolated in their homes.”

Following the consultation a report has now recommended the council continue to subsidise as many journeys as possible using the money available.

But Cllr Woodward argued that the Cabinet’s preferred option had been “a foregone conclusion all along”.

“The options were ivide and rule” effect with different groups of residents attracted to different options according to local circumstances, leaving the Cabinet with a free rein to implement their preferred option, hardly a transparent and open process.”

Cllr Woodward said that the Cabinet’s preferred option had been a “foregone conclusion all along”:

“We argued that the consultation was not an open and transparent one and we’ve now, unfortunately, been proved right,” she added. “Nor has any account been taken of the county-wide petition against the cuts in bus subsidies which was presented to the council last month.

“The four options would have affected communities differently, so it has created a ‘divide and rule’ effect with different groups of residents attracted to different options according to local circumstances, leaving the Cabinet with a free rein to implement their preferred option – hardly a transparent and open process.”

Cllr Mark Deaville, Cabinet Member for Commercial, said tough financial decisions needed to be made.

“While the vast majority of bus journeys in Staffordshire are made without any subsidy from the county council, some journeys are still costing taxpayers more than£10 every time someone gets on board,” he said. “When we need to spend a record £300million on care this year, it is only right that we continue to look closely at how public money is used for bus journeys and the public consultation gave us the chance to find out how people in the county think this can be best spent.

“The option which keeps the most journeys for the lowest subsidy gained the most support of any option and we now want to work with bus operators, local councils and communities to explore how they may want to still support some of the journeys which will no longer be subsidised.”

In an email to councillors, Cllr Deaville told his colleagues that while the preferred option does not include funding for any dial-a-ride or Connect services, he was keen that the council would work with other organisations to explore how those journeys could still be supported.

Cllr Woodward said: “We pressed the Cabinet member to look at alternative transport and set out some options, so I welcome Cllr Deaville’s comment on this.

“However, this must not just be a nod or some sort of sop but a real commitment to local transport solutions and we’ll be holding him to it.”

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