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Cllr STEVE COUNT: Our Conservative plan to address bus service cuts

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At a Conservative summit to discuss the crisis regarding bus services, we quickly realised the allocation of £1.7m from the CPCA will not be sufficient for the mayor Dr Nik Johnson to halt the majority of service cuts Stagecoach are proposing, which are estimated to cost £4.7m.

If these cuts are allowed to go ahead the impact on residents affected are enormous.

Whole communities such as Chatteris will lose every one of their services.

Isolated individuals, in primarily more rural communities that cannot afford the luxury of a car, will become entirely cut off from access to essential services for health, education and places of work.

We are outraged that Stagecoach were able to retain their Bus Improvement Grant, by reducing or cutting out entirely services in mainly rural areas, but then largely increasing bus services in Southern and urban areas, which we can only assume are more profitable.

Whilst Stagecoach’s planned removal of services affects most areas I particularly recognise the impact communities on my nearby communities of Fenland East Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire.

We understand the Stagecoach proposal comes whilst the effects and damage of a Covid pandemic are still with us and bus revenue is reduced.

However, some of the services affected are running as high as 97% and 92% of pre-pandemic levels, but they are still proposed to be cut. It is clear time is needed to deliver a more sustainable plan and a firmer base of passenger numbers to give a greater understanding of the “New norm” that is post Covid demand.

To help address this we have put forward a proposal which should fully finance and halt the proposed reductions and removal of services.

Allocate £1.7m from Cambridgeshire County Council’s un-ringfenced and unallocated £42.1m of reserves towards bus subsidies.

Call on the GCP to match our ambitions, as the core tenet of their future plans are for an enhanced bus service.

1 Call on our County Colleagues in the Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties and the Independents to support us and unite together by agreeing to allocate £1.7m from the £42.1m un-ringfenced and unallocated reserves the County council now currently holds.

This proposal to be specifically from the “post pandemic and recovery budgeting account” which currently has £7m available which is completely aligned to post pandemic situations such as this.

2 Ask the chief executive to write to the individual board members of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, asking them to urgently consider matching this level of commitment from their £40m a year grant.

The GCP currently proposes to start to deliver on their enhanced Bus Network in 2023 which is planned to be subsidised at £20m a year.

There is no value in allowing services to be cut now and then re-introduced at a later date.

This proposal will ensure the CPCA can concentrate on more rural areas and the GCP plans to deliver an enhanced bus network for their area are not de-railed at an early stage, due to a lack of confidence in the reliable continuity of bus services and a major drop in patronage on buses in their area.

These concrete plans with available finance can prevent the proposed cuts for one year, which gives the Transport Authority the time it needs to develop (alongside the GCP) plans for a sustainable public transport, that ensures rural communities are not left isolated.

The impacts on residents are immediate and so an immediate response is required; whilst buying the authorities the time for longer term thinking.

These plans are also wholly in line with the other parties’ ideologies, cooperation, compassion, community, as well as protecting vulnerable peoples access to vital services, and beneficial for the environment, so we hope the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party and the independents will support us in our efforts to halt these cuts to vital services.

EDITOR’S FOOTNOTE: Steve Count is leader of the Conservative opposition group on Cambridgeshire County Council and a Cabinet member at Fenland District Council.

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