Today, Worcestershire County Council Councillors voted by 9 votes to endorse the Tory Cabinet budget and slash over £25million from its next round of spending. This happened despite opposition pleas to save some services and re-direct finances to some essential services, the the vulnerable and buses – which was subject to massive public outcry recently. You might want to check out who voted for and against, or who abstained. Some so called ‘radical’ opposition isn’t quite so radical it seems, it just wears a different shade of blue rossette despite the pretence of being a different colour.
The Green Party joined the ranks of the protesters against the cuts outside of county hall this lunchtime.
The cuts voted for included the 64% cut to our bus services – the highest in the country by some spectacular margin and not much of a ‘u-turn’ as declared by the media! It remains to be seen what routes they will ‘save’ but no doubt party politics will play a bigger role in the decsion making process than what is ‘essential’ to bus users.
This is the report sent by Wyre Forest Green Party to the council leader and his cabinet (no reply received by the way).
Dear Cllr Hardman,
Worcestershire County Council
RE: CUTS TO BUS SERVICES – WYRE FOREST CAMPAIGNERS EXPERIENCES – REPORT
I write to you further to our campaign to draw to the council’s attention the negative public reaction to the proposed bus cuts in Wyre Forest.
You will be aware, as I note that most of the information contained in the next Cabinet Report Appendix is present, that the Wyre Forest ‘Save Our Buses’ campaign managed to accumulate 1,000 signatures on a petition against the cuts, delivered 602 letters to Wyre Forest County Councillors signed by Wyre Forest residents, and distributed over 200 of your own council consultation forms to local people.
This is a remarkable feat in a short space of time and helped put Worcestershire on the map for all of the wrong reasons. I am led to believe that total returns in the consultation exceed 8,500 – a return not achieved anywhere else in the country and this in itself demonstrates the level of opposition to the proposed cuts
The campaign’s intention, apart from the obvious objections to the cuts, has also been to bring to the council’s attention just what the cuts in these bus services will mean in real terms for real people’s lives, for the local economy, our health and well-being, including the environmental impact.
An unexpected but informative twist also meant that we found out about the reality for bus service providers, and what it might mean for them, and of course in-turn the community, if the bus subsidy for unprofitable routes is removed.
WHAT THE PEOPLE THINK ABOUT THE CUTS
Our group discovered, in the numerous public events we held to publicise this issue, that it transcends age and even class barriers. People have relayed to us their own fears and concerns about what such cuts will mean.
Comments received summarising public fears:
It will have a negative economic impact and brings real concerns on safety for the old, disabled, young people, and schoolchildren.
Workers rely on the buses to get to work, many of these are low paid workers who have no other means of transport and may lose their jobs if services they rely on are lost.
Vulnerable people and the elderly rely on them to get about and get into the town centres to do their weekly shopping and undertake their business.
Removing bus services will mean schoolchildren whose parents do not have access to vehicles are at risk on the streets when travelling to and from school etc.
It will impair the ability of young people seeking work to secure employment in an already fragile economic situation.
Ultimately, bus cuts will lead to an increasing number of people being isolated in their homes and community. This could place an extra strain on social care resources as people lose independence and suffer health and well-being issues. This is quite apart from the impact on their health of not being able to access what appears to be a growing ‘access inequality’ to what they consider remote medical services, particularly for those people in rural areas.
FALSE ECONOMY – QUESTIONS RAISED
It should also be regarded that as a likely outcome from such cuts, there will be higher levels of congestion as people seek alternatives. With this will come increased demands on the physical infrastructure (roads etc), and higher levels of pollution which can detrimentally affect the environment and peoples health.
This could place additional financial burdens on other budgets the council holds rendering any bus subsidy cuts a false economy and I ask if any costing for this aspect has been made?
The hidden economic, environmental, health, and road safety question of the potential for an increased number of un-roadworthy cars or those in poor condition being used by the financially vulnerable should also be factored in to this equation.
I would ask if this has been a consideration because this may very well impact upon the budgets of other public services (Police/Fire/NHS/HSE) and have they been included as stakeholders in the consultation?
Given the above views presented to us during our events, I would be very interested to see just what is contained in the Equality Impact Assessment the council has surely undertaken? It would be most informative to see how it stacks up against the publics’ very real concerns; and the public sector duties the council has under the Equalities Act.
STATUTORY DUTY – BUS SERVICES
Consequent to this, I would also be interested to hear how you feel removing the total £3million subsidy for supported bus services, which in any event should be considered a social investment, sits with the council’s statutory duty to identify transport needs and to provide services where these needs would not otherwise be met?
Has the council not commissioned a prior report into this duty and its own areas of vulnerability on this matter prior to this consultation? This would surely better inform its members of the consequences of a breach of this duty and have identified where services need to be maintained?
If such a report exists is it publicly available?
MORE BUS CUTS IN WORCESTERSHIRE THAN ANYWHERE ELSE
The proposed cut of 100% is radical in the extreme when compared to every other council in the country, who so far as I am aware have not taken such draconian measures with the majority cut being below 25% with only 4 local authorities reaching cuts in the 40% range (peak).
It is hard to see how a 100% cut can be justified especially when factored against the West Midlands as a whole, which already spends the lowest of any region (£3.82) on supported bus services per head of population. Indeed, the current amount of supported bus spending versus share of population also puts West Midlands at the bottom of the league table. It is hard to reconcile the council’s thinking against these facts because the proposal will make matters even worse.
As a result of our campaigning, I have also been made aware that if the subsidy for the supported routes is removed, it could and would most likely place bus companies delivering the contracts into wider financial jeopardy. This has implications for jobs and wider bus services, potentially rendering the county as a whole poorer both socially and economically.
Now whilst the majority of campaigners, myself included, would argue for a public run bus service rather than the inbuilt inefficiencies of competition in a market that has little or no left margin for it, the reality of the current model along with cuts presents an immediate crisis. In effect, the loss of the supported routes will have a detrimental impact upon the profitable commercial routes leading to their demise too. This, on the basis of ‘economies of scale’ applying to such bus companies operations, bearing in mind their staffing, business and other overheads.
These ‘economies of scale’ allow bus companies to cross-subsidise the ‘supported’ routes for what I am told is a significant amount of money. Any loss of supported routes threatens this business model as the services are co-dependent and as the business base declines, so will the ability of bus companies to offer services across the piece.
So, as co-dependence is an intrinsic part of their operations, and an intrinsic part of the contract in order to make them all financially viable, I do wonder if the council is aware of this fact and considers it when awarding contracts?
IS THERE A DIFFERENT WAY OF WORKING?
The irony is that all of this is rather anti-competitive as the model favours large companies who can best take the hit compared to smaller companies who cannot afford to compete, unless they get wider contracts for services in order to cross-subsidise routes. Nevertheless, and on a grand scale, it may result at some point in no bus company small or large tendering for anything as it is simply not worth it to them.
This has lead campaigners involved in this issue to conclude that when the services are offered for tender, that this needs to be considered as it is entirely possible with a re-working of the contracts to facilitate more cross-subsidy, it may just help realise some of the savings the council says it needs to make, whilst preserving those services most needed for the community.
On behalf of Wyre Forest ‘Save Our Buses’
Co-ordinated by Wyre Forest Green Party