We are told that big savings are needed to enable the council to balance the books, following years of repeated cuts in grant funding by the Tory government at Westminster, writes Peterborough Lib Dem group leader Nick Sandford
This time, in phase 2 of the budget, the big controversial area is bus services. Having cut bus subsidies by 50% in 2012, the Tories are proposing to make another swingeing cut of £150,000 (around 20%) in next year’s budget. They first announced the proposal when the budget was published on 5 October but as I write this on 2 December, they are still refusing to give us full information on which bus services will be cut, even though the final decision on the budget is due to be taken at Full Council on 12 December. The “budget consultation” document has one paragraph in it, which refers to cutting “under used evening bus services” but doesn’t say which ones. A supplementary report issued only last Tuesday talks about some cuts to nos 60 to 63 services but also contains a veiled threat to the core Citi urban services of “services stopping earlier in the evening or delivered differently to reduce costs”
It is quite obvious to me what is happening here. Our Tory council leaders know that when people hear that their local bus service is being cut, they might be pretty angry about it. So why not push the budget cut through on 12 December and only afterwards reveal the true impacts? So, when people then start protesting they will be told it is too late and the decision has already been made.
What is even more stupid is that the Tories want to cut bus services that will not even be under their control next year, given that they have voted to hand over control of public transport funding to the Combined Authority. Next year the Cambs Metro Mayor will be able to subsidise whatever bus services he wants and put a precept on the Council Tax to force Peterborough tax payers to pay for them.
The truth is there may be some bus services that are poorly patronised. No-one is saying the council should be paying for buses that run empty. But that is simply not the case on the core Citi Services run by Stagecoach in the urban area. After much chasing, the council have finally published a Cabinet briefing paper which shows that the evening bus services on the core Citi routes cost the council on average 94p per passenger journey. For that we all get an integrated hourly network of evening services across the city that people can use for work and leisure journeys. These services represent good value for money for taxpayers and the Tories should not be looking to cut them.
And we need to add to that the wider agenda. Do we not have a massive global crisis of accelerating climate change? Do we not have traffic congestion in parts of our city? And are we not supposed to be aspiring to be the environment capital of the country?
And, when our Tory Council is spending £2.7 million on refurbishing the Town Hall, including installing air conditioning in the council leader’s plush new office, they should not be cutting vital services like bus routes on which so many Peterborough people of all ages depend.