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Mayor’s £12 a year tax to save Cambridgeshire’s buses

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A £12 year charge for Band D Council Taxpayers across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is to be introduced by Mayor Dr Nik Johnson to save threatened bus services.

“Based on forecasts from the areas’ collection authorities this would raise £3.6m in 2023-24,” says Jon Alsop, chief finance officer for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA).

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson a year ago on the Wisbech Tesco bus route 68 run by FACT Community Transport “to understand the needs of local residents using this route”

“The mayor is proposing this precept in response to the pressure facing the combined authority across it’s supported bus services.”

No examples of the tax payable by those other than Band D Council Taxpayers have been provided.

Mr Alsop, in a report to Wednesday’s budget setting CAPCA board meeting, reminds members of the decision by Stagecoach to withdrew from 23 services at short notice last year.

“The mayor and combined authority reacted quickly and decisively to protect these services through a rapid re-tendering exercise resulting in all services being partially or fully continued,” says Mr Alsop.

“The cost of the new services is considerably higher than those they replace, reflecting the substantial increase in fuel, energy, and driver costs that are facing the public transport industry at large.

“This pressure is expected to continue into the new year, and the forecast costs of sustaining the currently supported service are £7m in 2022-23, compared to an existing budget of only £3.5m.”

Mr Alsop says as well as continuing to support the current services, the mayor has a “stated ambition to progress the business case for franchising the bus network in the area.

“A franchised network would enable far greater control over which routes are offered and protect residents from private operators withdrawing services unilaterally”.

Mr Alsop says continuing to press for bus franchising “at pace” will require short-term investment of £900,000.

Meeting with Anthony Browne MP for South Cambridgeshire to chat about plans for the region, including #transport and the #environment. “Great to hear how keen he is to co-operate with me on these, and other issues,” said Mayor Dr Nik Johnson.

These factors, in addition to an increase in electricity costs of running the real-time passenger information network (the displays at bus stops which say when the next bus will come) estimated at £100k “result in a pressure beyond the combined authority’s anticipated budget of £4.5m”.

He said the importance of continuing these bus routes “was clearly articulated by the influx of personal letters sent to the mayor and leaders on the combined authority board telling how the authors would be unable to get to jobs, schools and carer commitments without the services which were in danger of ceasing.

“As such the mayor does not support the reduction of critical services to reduce the cost of service”.

Mr Alsop says an alternative proposition was considered as CAPCA is able to increase its transport levy, the charge it makes on Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council as the local highways authorities, by an inflationary amount each year.

“This year the extremely high rates of inflation would allow the levy to be increased by 12.6%,” he says.

“However, by doing so, as with seeking contributions from the constituent councils directly, it would simply shift the burden from the combined authority onto the already stretched budgets of the highways authorities.

Early on after his election, Mayor Dr Nik Johnson met MP Steve Barclay to discuss issues affecting Fenland residents

“As such the transport levy proposed as part of the combined authority’s budget includes only a 2% increase in the levy, with the combined authority shouldering the £1.4m difference between this and the maximum allowed increase.

“While it would be possible to balance the 2023-24 pressure on the passenger transport budgets through a range of cuts to existing CAPCA commitments and the use of one-off reserves both these responses are inherently short term.

“They would provide funding in 2023-24 but do nothing to enable the combined authority to continue those services in 2024-25 and beyond.”

Mr Alsop explains that a mayoral precept of £1 a month “would help to safeguard the services which are critical for some residents to work, learn and participate in society for the medium-term”.

It would also allow CAPCA to develop the case for franchising in co-ordination with Greater Cambridge Partnership “to incorporate the results of their work around Cambridge.

“The funding will be ringfenced to the support of passenger transport services in the area, including the costs of the real-time passenger transport network.

Cllr Stephen Ferguson last October: “I had an inspiring conversation with Mrs White this evening who (together with her friend Beryl Haran) has collected 1,271 signatures to save the 66 Bus. These are real life signatures gathered on Market Square from people like Mrs White who depend on the 66 bus to travel to Huntingdon and especially Hinchingbrooke Hospital.” He presented the petition to Mayor Dr. Nik Johnson

“This is a precept required by unprecedented increases in the cost of passenger transport, not to support the combined authority’s core costs.”

Elsewhere in his report, Mr Alsop says the Mayor’s budget will be passed unless voted against by a 2/3 majority of members of the board. It will be a recorded vote.

He says the draft mayor’s budget has several key differences to prior years:

There is a £53k reduction in the mayor’s office accommodation budget, from £77k p.a. to £24k p.a.

This, along with some of the savings on the mayor’s office expenses, is from efficiency savings driven by the move to co-locate both CAPCA and mayor in the new headquarters in Pathfinder House, Huntingdon.

Roles in the mayor’s office have been combined with those in communications, executive support and policy development and moved into a new chief executive’s office.

The result of this is that the mayor’s office staffing budget is zero in all years.

The mayor’s allowance was set at £86,121 in 22-23 following the recommendation of an independent remuneration panel and will be increased in-line with the award for local government employees negotiated nationally.

 

Mayor Dr Nik Johnson a year ago on the  Wisbech Tesco bus route 68 run by FACT Community Transport “to understand the needs of local residents using this route

 

Meeting with Anthony Browne MP for South Cambridgeshire to chat about plans for the region, including #transport and the #environment. “Great to hear how keen he is to co-operate with me on these, and other issues,” said Mayor Dr Nik Johnson.

Cllr Stephen Ferguson last October: “I had an inspiring conversation with Mrs White this evening who (together with her friend Beryl Haran) has collected 1,271 signatures to save the 66 Bus. These are real life signatures gathered on Market Square from people like Mrs White who depend on the 66 bus to travel to Huntingdon and especially Hinchingbrooke Hospital.” He presented the petition to Mayor Dr. Nik Johnson

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