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Council rejects £1.7m to support ‘diabolical’ Stagecoach

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County councillors condemned Stagecoach’s decision to axe or reduce more than 30 services across the county calling it ‘appalling, ‘scandalous’ and even ‘diabolical’.

But a proposal to allocate £1.7m of the council’s reserves to a bus subsidy pot was not supported at this stage by the strategy and resources committee today.

The committee said it had taken note of the fact that Stagecoach had recently accepted government money to support its less profitable routes and had also posted notice of significant profits, as a group, earlier in the year.

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The proposal, put as an amendment by Cllr Chris Boden, which also recommended that the council ask the Greater Cambridge Partnership to match fund this sum, wasn’t supported by the committee ahead of a re-tendering process which is currently under way.

The committee pointed to severe funding uncertainties ahead for all the services that the council is responsible for.

The committee said it also noted that the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA), the body responsible for public transport across the county, had begun a re-tendering process for the threatened routes.

The result of that process would be known on October 19 – the day before the next strategy and resources committee meets.

CAPCA has already pledged an additional £1.7m to secure the threatened routes from 30th October to end of March 2023.

Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of the council, and chair of the committee expressed her outrage about the Stagecoach proposal and confirmed the committee’s sympathy with the spirit of the proposed amendment.

“There has been a terrific failure by government in handing over money to Stagecoach with no strings attached,” said Cllr Nethsingha.

“While it is possible that there may be a need for more funding than the CPCA has indicated is available, it is currently unclear what the scale of that need might need to be, or how else it might be met, and we will know what this is by the time of our next meeting.

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“I am pleased that Mayor Dr Nik Johnson has moved so swiftly.

Cllr Elisa Meschini, deputy leader and vice chair of S&, said: “We will work with him to ensure funding is found to rescue these routes as soon as we know how much money will be needed.

“But it is incorrect to label our general reserves as an ‘un-ringfenced account’, much less a pandemic recovery account’.

“Our general reserves are needed to protect us against the effects of the uncertainty currently rocking the markets, including interest rates and the costs of servicing our debt.

“We cannot commit them to any other specific purpose without more information at the present time.”

Cllr Nethsingha said that the fact that Stagecoach can simply withdraw services at such short notice “is a massive problem”.

“There has been a terrific failure by government in handing over money to Stagecoach with no strings attached,” said Cllr Nethsingha.

She said: “I am writing to Government, specifically to Lucy Frazer MP, as Minister of State for Transport, to ask that the Government urgently review the current regulations which allow bus companies to simply cancel routes at such short notice and give Bus Improvement money direct to bus operators rather than the authorities who are responsible for them.”

“As a member of the CAPCA Board I am pleased that the Board has stepped in quickly to tender to preserve the current routes.

“I am also pleased that the GCP has decided this week to consult on proposals which I believe will offer very much improved bus services across the whole Cambridge travel to work area, including options which would make franchising a realistic possibility.”

The full debate on the item can be watched here (646) Strategy and Resources Committee – 30 September 2022 – YouTube.

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