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Derbyshire 'stripped of more than half of bus services funding'

Thursday, December 5th, 2019 1:42pm

By Eddie Bisknell, Local Democracy Reporter @EddieBisk

Derbyshire's bus services have been hit by some of the highest budget cuts of all English authorities in the past few years, according to data.

Data published by the Campaign for Better Transport shows that the county has been stripped of more than half of its funding for bus services.

The figures have been contested by the deputy leader of Derbyshire County Council.

Derbyshire is one of the largest and most rural counties in England and for thousands of residents buses are the only mode of transport available.

It has had 60 per cent of its government funding for bus services cut since 2010 – from £7.2 million to £2.9 million. This is the fifth largest reduction of all of English local authorities.

However, the data also shows that Derbyshire County Council now subsidises the highest total number of miles travelled by local bus services – 16.2 million miles, more than any other English council.

It supports the sixth highest proportion of bus miles – lending subsidies to 22 per cent of the overall miles covered by buses in the county.

But due to reduced funding, Derbyshire County Council cut support for 26 routes last year – more than any other local authority.

It had aimed to save £1 million through that move.

Of those 26 routes, it had said that 13 would potentially be continued by private firms while 13 were due to disappear entirely.

Derbyshire has also had the ninth highest budget cut to school transport, funded via central government, since 2013 to 2014 – from £6.4 million to £4.6 million, a 38 per cent reduction.

In September, the county council announced fresh cuts for next year, which will include a further £450,000 reduction in bus route subsidies and £70,000 from home-to-school transport, including “ceasing” some routes.

The Campaign for Better Transport said it had identified “a picture of incoherent and shrinking funding, resulting in degraded or lost services and increasing fares”.

Cllr Simon Spencer, cabinet member for highways and deputy leader at Derbyshire County Council, said that the figures provided by the Campaign for Better Transport were “vague and possibly incorrect”.

He said that the data was provided via Freedom of Information requests and that the devil was in the detail.

Cllr Spencer confirmed that 26 bus routes had not been cut, but that council subsidies for 26 routes had been dropped, with 13 of these set to be continued by private firms.

These routes were largely evening and weekend routes supporting other main services.

He said that the overall budget for subsidised bus routes in Derbyshire was £4.6 million.

Cllr Spencer said: “If we do support about a quarter of services then that is something we should be proud of, but it may also not be correct.

“We do support a lot of bus services through subsidies and these have a high cost per head due to the size of the county – drivers spend a lot of time travelling from one place to another.

“There is a statutory requirement for us to provide home-to-school transport and that requirement is fulfilled.

“I can’t imagine that 38 per cent of those using that service are not using it now.”

Cllr Spencer claims: “When I came into office (in 2017) the budget for public transport was £460,000 and we put in £3.2 million in our first year.

“We are continually looking at value for money in our public transport, which in rural communities is more expensive than in urban areas by the very nature of where it is.

“I will ask my team to look very closely to avoid cutting services to an area.

“That may include integrating two or three services.

“It is challenging, that is fair comment, but we continue to work to avoid leaving an area without a service at all, including for all our young people and our rural areas.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked local representatives of each of the main political parties for their views on the issue, and offered the opportunity for them to either provide a comment from a specific candidate or a regional response from a spokesperson.

The Green Party:

Helen Hitchcock, the Green Party candidate for Derby North said: “Conservative central government cuts have reduced England’s public transport services to an unacceptable level, hitting the most vulnerable in society the hardest whilst increasing car use.”

No one from the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems or the Brexit Party had responded at time of publication.

Here is a short summary of what each of their national policies are regarding bus transport.

The Conservatives:

The Conservatives have pledged to invest in frequent buses with low, flat fares in urban areas. They pledge to invest £4.2 billion in public transport.

Labour:

Free bus travel for passengers aged under 25 will be introduced under Labour’s plans, and 3,000 axed routes will be reinstated.

The Liberal Democrats:

The Lib Dems are committed to restoring routes and adding new ones “where there is local need”.

The Brexit Party:

Has pledged to bring in free train and bus Wi-Fi. It also pledges to invest £50bn in regional road and rail projects in development-starved regions.

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