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40% of local councils cutting bus services with warning of more to come

12 December 2012
Bus funding in many parts of England has seen a second year of significant cuts, according to new research out today. Campaign for Better Transport has found that 41% of local authorities have cut services this year, on top of the major service reductions made in 2011/12, when one in five local council supported bus services were cut or cut back.

In 2011/12, central government’s spending review cut funding for local authorities’ transport budgets by 28%. Local council financial support for bus services was then expected to recover this year. However, a cut of 20% to the direct support all buses receive through the Bus Service Operators Grant from April 2012 seems to have caused a further round of cuts by local councils.

The research, carried out by Campaign for Better Transport using Freedom of Information requests, reveals that:

•    41% of local authorities have cut spending on supported bus services this year. 10% made cuts of over £1m
•    Cuts from those councils reducing funding totaled £18.3m – 16 per cent of the budget for supported buses across England
•    There are differences between regions. More than 100 supported services were lost this year in the South West, 62% of local authorities in the East Midlands have cut funding for buses, while the East of England has made the deepest financial cuts - £4m

The report's findings are supported by the Department for Transport’s own statistics for 2011/12 which showed a 9% cut in tendered services and fares up by a third in five years (3).

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport said:

“Buses are vital to communities and the economy. Without them many people are isolated, unable to access jobs or reliant on the car. By making year on year cuts like these, we run a very real risk of tipping services into a spiral of decline.”

Some local councils have been able to increase funding this year or persuade bus operators to run some services whose funding has been cut as commercial services. With operators now struggling with cuts in support of their own from national government, the research highlights the risk of further cuts to come in 2013/14:

•    Overall local council budgets are due to be cut by 2 per cent in 2014/15 meaning budgets will remain very tight
•    Central government support for buses is being devolved to local authorities but may not be ring-fenced from next year
•    The cost for councils of running the concessionary fares scheme and the limits on central government funding for this mean that money from other transport budgets has to be found to run the statutory scheme

The report highlights the difficulties that cuts to bus services cause to different groups in society, particularly older and younger people.

Commenting on the report, Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General. Age UK said,

“Many older people depend on buses as the only affordable way to get out and about, go to the doctor or visit friends and family. By helping people stay involved in their communities, buses play an essential part in preventing isolation and loneliness which for older people has been shown to have serious impacts on their mental and physical health.

Michelle Mitchell continued

“Last year nearly 10 million older and disabled people owned concessionary bus passes and made an average of 109 bus journeys a year. But there is little point in having a bus pass if there are no buses to use and it is it is extremely worrying to see that more than a third of local councils have together made £18 million of cuts to bus services this financial year on top of last year’s reductions. In some cases, routes have been cancelled altogether, leaving people stranded without affordable alternatives.”

Michelle Mitchell concluded

“The Government and local authorities need to appreciate that buses are crucial in allowing older people to remain independent and healthy. By finding a way to pool budgets nationally and locally the impact of these financial cuts on bus services could  be eased and more bus routes saved for the future.”

Dara Farrell, 19, Vice Chair of the British Youth Council and Chair of the Youth Select Committee on Public Transport, said

“Lack of affordable and accessible transport is the number one priority issue affecting young people day to day live – and buses are often the main or only form of transport. So a good bus service is essential for us to access education, training or employment, socialise with friends, and be part of their local communities. With record levels of youth unemployment we should be giving young people every opportunity to succeed, and this means regular bus and rail services, especially in areas away from big transport hubs, to avoid leaving them isolated and unable to access these opportunities.”

Stephen Joseph said

“Instead of cutting support, Government should be ring-fencing it and restoring it.”

Stephen Joseph continued

“Local authorities and operators must work together to make buses natural choice for many journeys. Smarter ticketing, frequent and reliable services, better passenger information and traffic planning that promotes buses all make a big difference.”

ENDS

Notes

1. The crisis of bus provision in England: The second year of cuts to supported services is published by Campaign for Better Transport on 12 December 2012.

2. Department for Transport / Office of National Statistics ‘Annual Bus Statistics 2011-12’ were published in November.

3. Central government financially supports bus services in two ways - the Local Government Transport Grant and the Bus Service Operators Grant. In 2011-12, central government's support to local authorities through the Transport Grant was cut by 28%. In 2012-13 central government's support for the Operators Grant was cut by 20%.

4. 36 local authorities have increased funding for supported buses in 2012/13 compared to 2011/12. Across England, there has been a net increase in spending on supported buses of £11m. The biggest increase comes in Transport for Greater Manchester, which reports an increase in spending on supported buses of £9.5m. There are methodological issues concerning the comparability of figures in some cases, an issue covered in more detail in the report. The increase can be partly explained by an additional £70m from central government given to 24 Better Bus Areas.

5. Local authorities have a statutory duty to secure the provision of appropriate public transport services. In practice, this means subsidising bus services that are socially necessary but would not be provided commercially. When a local authority cuts support for a bus the route is either withdrawn or reduced (for example, losing Sunday or evening buses).

6. Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).

7. Age UK is the new force combining Age Concern and Help the Aged, dedicated to improving later life. It provides free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to well over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Mallary Gelb, Senior Media Officer, mallarygelb@ageuk.org.uk 0203 033 1682

8. The British Youth Council is an independent charity run for and by young people representing their views to central and local government, political parties and others. Jemma Roche, Communications Manager, 020 7250 8368 jemma.roche@byc.org.uk.