This morning, the Campaign for Better Transport revealed that bus routes across the UK are set to take a serious hit as local councils slash budgets in the wake of government belt-tightening.
The group’s research shows that the current tally of local authority bus cuts is £34 million, with 70 per cent of councils already looking to buses as an area where they can make savings. In Norfolk, for example, the county council plans to reduce current bus support by £1.4 million over two years.
In North Yorkshire, England’s largest county, £600,000 has been cut from the bus budget, resulting in all supported evening, Sunday and bank holiday services being axed. It’s not just rural areas that are set to suffer. Greater Manchester’s transport authority is looking at how to save around £6.5 million in the coming financial year.
Loss of public transport puts people on low incomes or looking for work at a massive disadvantage in continuing to hold down or find a job. According to a report by the Campaign for Better Transport and Citizens Advice, half of households in the bottom income bracket do not own a car and nearly two-thirds of people claiming income support or jobseeker’s allowance do not have access to a car and a licence to drive it.
It also points out that buses are the most commonly used form of public transport, especially for people on low incomes. Without decent, affordable bus services, many people remain unable to get back to work, or undergo the education or training that could lead to work, because they have to find a job locally, which severely limits their options and ability to contribute to the economic recovery and community life.
Transport minister Norman Baker says 78 per cent of all bus services are commercially run, so are unaffected by local authority budgets. He also says that although the government’s funding settlement for councils is “challenging”, some were responding “imaginatively” but others were “just reaching for the axe”.
Make of that what you will. But there are likely to be a lot of people out there for whom David Cameron’s words last June – promising that “the government will not cut this deficit in a way that hurts those we most need to help, that divides the country or that undermines the spirit and ethos of our public services” – might be ringing a little hollow.
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