May 11 2011: A Cambridgeshire bus user is taking legal action to hold her council to account over bus cuts. Her message is clear; with budgets tightening across the country it’s more important than ever that impact assessments and consultations don’t end up as an afterthought or a hollow tick box exercise.
Central government cuts to local authority budgets have seen many councils target buses to make savings, but Cambridgeshire is one of only three councils in England choosing to scrap all the services they fund. The local authority is now facing a legal challenge by bus user Jo Green. With the aid of Leigh Day & Co solicitors, a preliminary legal letter has been sent to the council.
We, like Jo, have serious concerns that the council has failed to deliver on its legally binding duties to provide appropriate public transport and to take due regard of the needs of particularly vulnerable user groups through detailed impact assessments and proper public consultation. Vitally, these have to happen at a stage when the decision can actually be influenced. This is a warning shot for authorities who may be making similar decisions.
Ultimately the responsibility for this lies with Westminster; particularly Eric Pickles as Secretary of State for local government who decided to front-load council spending cuts, giving local councils little time to deal with massive cuts in funding.
Despite the difficulties they all face, some local authorities are managing to damage bus services much less than others. Our clickable map includes some good news stories. Northumberland and South Gloucestershire currently look like they have managed to avoid bus cuts. Surrey and Worcestershire are making big bus cuts, but at least they are conducting thoughtful and detailed public consultations.
Earlier this year we wrote to local authorities, putting forward ideas for making savings while protecting buses; ideas like integrated tendering, marketing and promotion to get more people on the bus and creating partnerships with bus companies.
What is clear is that bus users need greater protection. People use buses to travel to college, and to work, and to the shops or to access services. If people are stopped in their tracks by bus cuts then we will have a less active, less healthy population with more unemployment and fewer people accessing education. For these reasons bus cuts are a false economy and should be a national concern.
Despite this the government has not had a policy on buses for a year as they have been waiting for the Competition Commission to issue its findings on the bus market. Last week the Commission published its initial findings, and it’s now high time the government stopped dodging the issue and made a plan for buses into the future.