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MP critical of council for not backing Tory bus subsidy plan

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MP Lucy Frazer says Cambridgeshire County Council should have taken money from its “unallocated/un-ringfenced” reserves to subsidise threatened bus services.

The SE Cambs MP says that by coincidence on the day the county council strategy and resources committee rejected Conservative moves to allocate an extra £1.7m, she met Darren Roe, managing director of Stagecoach East.

She said a Conservative proposal put to the committee “could have prevented these bus cuts.

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“This would have involved Cambridgeshire County Council taking £1.7 million from its unallocated / un-ringfenced £42 million reserve (specifically the pandemic recovery fund), as well as asking the Greater Cambridge Partnership to make available the same amount.

“This would then have been combined with the £1.7 million of funding put forward by the Combined Authority to ensure enough funding to maintain existing bus services for at least a year, giving the Combined Authority – which is responsible for commissioning bus services across Cambridgeshire & Peterborough – enough time to find a long-term solution to this issue.”

She added: “Unfortunately, Labour, LibDem and independent county councillors on the strategy and resources committee blocked the proposal.”

Of her meeting with Mr Roe, she said she wanted to “convey in person my anger and concern.

“On behalf of my constituents, I urged Stagecoach to rethink its plans before it is too late.

“Of course, we need to have an alternative plan ready to go assuming Stagecoach continues to ignore public outrage and proceeds with cutting services in South East Cambridgeshire and across the region.”

Her comments are in an email to a constituent who published it to a Facebook group.

“Time is running out to save our buses,” wrote Ms Frazer.

“If these services are lost, I know the devastating impact it will have on large numbers of people in South East Cambridgeshire, and elsewhere.

“As buses are a devolved matter, it is for the mayor (Dr Nik Johnson) and his colleagues at the Combined Authority to find a solution to this problem.

“Whilst I do welcome the £1.7million of funding the mayor has put forward, I am concerned that the amount he has made available will be not enough to prevent all the service cuts announced by Stagecoach.”

She was planning a meeting with Mayor Johnson to “make sure he is aware of just how important it is for my constituents that these services are protected.

Dr Nik Johnson aboard Wisbech route 66 earlier this year

“I am conscious that Government funding for buses is already significant.

“Over the last couple of years, the UK Government has made available £2 billion to bus and light rail companies to keep services running, plus a recent £130 million extension to the grant to continue to protect bus services until the end of March 2023 (funding which the mayor now proposes to use).

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“This is in addition to the Government’s £1 billion National Bus Strategy to improve bus services going forward, and £60 million to fund a £2 fare cap on most bus services across England for three-months by end of the year.”

She said that Stagecoach’s plans to cut a number of bus services from the end of this month “continue to worry large numbers of my constituents, especially those who rely on the number 11, 12, 39 and Citi5 routes”.

Her email/comments were sent to one of those organising a petition to halt cancellation of bus services numbers 11 & 12, connecting Cambridge to Ely via Newmarket (return) and Cambridge to Bury St Edmunds (return) in October 2022.

The petition says: “Not only will this have a huge impact on children and young adults attending Cambridge colleges, West Suffolk college it shall also remove any public services from any villages between allowing us access to train services.

“This cannot be allowed to happen, people will become even more isolated, people will struggle to get to work, and the elderly may lose their only form of transport to get from a-b.

“The government want us to use buses and reduce pollution and traffic in main cities and this will undoubtedly cause more cars to travel into Cambridge, which coincidentally they are considering a £5 levy for congestion.

“Please share wide and far so we are heard and those that don’t have social media are considered.”

Petition · Stop the cancellation of stagecoach bus service 11 & 12 · Change.org

The combined authority will debate its response – and possible subsidies and awarding of alternative bus tenders to other companies -on October 19.

The following day, the strategy and resources committee will agree its response.

Meanwhile council leader Lucy Nethsingha has herself written to Lucy Frazer – who as well as being MP for SE Cambs is also transport minister.

Cllr Nethsingha wants an urgent review of regulations which allow bus companies to cancel routes at short notice.

Cllr Nethsingha said: “We will do everything that we can to not only preserve but improve bus services over time; and I hope very much that mayor Johnson, in putting these routes out to tender so quickly, will allow them to continue. 

“Longer term, we really need a bus network for the people who reply and depend on it, not just for Stagecoach and its shareholders.” 

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