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Council faces legal challenge over bus cuts

11 May 2011
A local authority cutting all council-funded bus services is facing legal action by one of its residents.

Jo Green (42), from Milton, is challenging Cambridgeshire County Council's decision to axe all council-funded buses over the next four years.

Jo said: "I use the bus to take my son to his hospital appointments, to go to the cinema and to go to church. If I want to do these things now I'd have to get a taxi into town, which I can’t afford on a low income. There are also lots of elderly and disabled people who rely on the buses and in some rural areas of Cambridgeshire it means people will be totally isolated.

"What annoys me most is we weren't asked about these cuts or officially notified about them, they made the decision without us. I understand the council needs to save money, but they are there to provide a public service and any cuts should be done with care and thought and it seems to me they've done neither. That's why I decided to do something about it and not just for my family, but for all the other bus passengers who are going to be left stranded."

Cuts to local authority budgets have seen many councils target buses as a way to make savings, but Cambridgeshire is one of only three councils in England choosing to scrap all the services they fund. The move will mean a 20 per cent reduction in the county's bus routes and a loss of almost two million passenger journeys a year.

Legal proceedings have been started against the council by Leigh Day & Co Solicitors. A pre-action letter has been sent setting out the challenge, based on a failure to comply with its duties under the Transport Act 1985, the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Councils have a legal duty to meet the transport needs of residents by providing socially necessary buses and have '"due regard" for the equality needs of protected groups. The council may also have acted unlawfully by failing to conduct an adequate public consultation prior to the decision being made as required by law.

Sustainable transport charity, Campaign for Better Transport, is supporting Jo and providing information for the legal case. Campaign for Better Transport launched a national campaign earlier in the year called Save Our Buses which aimed to draw attention to the unprecedented cuts to local bus services.

Sophie Allain, Campaign for Better Transport's bus campaigner, said: "We don't believe that a complete withdrawal of all socially necessary buses can be compatible with the duty to meet people's public transport needs. It's not just Cambridgeshire at fault, we know of other bus users in North Yorkshire and Warwickshire who have also sought legal advice. Ultimately the responsibility for this lies with central Government front-loading council spending cuts and they need to make sure councils have adequate funding to support public transport."

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day & Co Solicitors said: "The council has very clear legal duties with which it has failed to comply. It has decided to cut funding to buses without properly involving the public in its decision making process or assessing how this cut will affect those using the current service. For this reason, we have advised our client that unless the council agrees to reconsider, we will have no option but to issue proceedings, seeking the involvement of the court."

Jo is taking forward her challenge with the backing of local protest group, Cambridge Against the Cuts. Spokesperson Andrew Osborne said: "Cambridgeshire is a large rural county, with very little transportation infrastructure and these buses provide a vital lifeline for the elderly, students and the unemployed. For the council to slash these essential services with the stroke of a pen, and then conduct a sham of a consultation process, smacks of uncaring arrogance. I'm looking forward to seeing them in court."

Campaign for Better Transport predicts that further cases could follow in other areas where councils are similarly slashing bus services.

Notes to Editors

1. Cambridgeshire County Council agreed on 15 February 2011 as part of their Integrated Plan for 2011/2012 to cut all funding for subsidised bus services over a four year period (saving £2.98m) and instead provide £220k towards community transport for 2011/2012 and 2012/2013 only.  Subsidised services account for 20 per cent of all bus services in the Cambridgeshire, or 1,924,870 passenger journeys per year.

2. The legal challenge identifies three ways Cambridgeshire County Council has potentially acted unlawfully:

- Failure to discharge statutory duty to secure public transport under section 63 of the Transport Act 1985

- Failure to properly to discharge its duties under s71 Race Relations Act 1976, s76A Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and s49A Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to have “due regard” to the various identified equalities needs of protected groups

- Conducting a flawed public consultation process/failure to undertake any proper public consultation on cuts to bus subsidies whilst proposals at formative stage

3. Under the 1985 Transport Act, councils must "secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as the council considers appropriate to meet any public transport requirements which would not otherwise be met“, and "ensure bus services are provided where they are socially necessary and would not otherwise be provided commercially." A review of statutory local authority duties, including those contained in the Transport Act 1985, is available from http://www.communities.gov.uk/localgovernment/decentralisation/tacklingburdens/reviewstatutoryduties/

4. Save Our Buses is a campaign from Campaign for Better Transport that makes the case for buses to Government decision-makers and supports local campaign groups to fight bus cuts in their area. For more information, or to view the interactive map showing bus cuts across the county, visit the Save Our Buses website. As part of the campaign, the group sent a joint letter, co-signed by 28 other organisations, to David Cameron PM urging him to so more to protect buses.

5. 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).

6. Leigh Day & Co Solicitors specialise in many aspects of national and international personal injury and accident work, human rights, clinical negligence and multi-party actions.

7. Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts was set up by Cambridgeshire trades unions, community groups and individual campaigners. Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts is opposed to all government funding cuts whether implemented by central or local government.