Cuts to 'under-used' bus services agreed by Peterborough City Council despite opposition

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Cuts to bus services were agreed by Peterborough city councillors last night despite attempts by opposition councillors attempting to postpone the vote.

The cash-strapped Conservative run council will end or reduce “under-used” services which it currently subsidises Stagecoach to run.

A Stagecoach bus in Peterborough

A Stagecoach bus in Peterborough

The cut will save the authority £150,00 out of a current spend of £715,000 for subsidising “commercially unviable” bus routes.

Reducing the subsidy was part of the council’s budget setting process as it seeks to tackle a £14.5 million deficit.

The proposals voted through last night by Conservative councillors will help the authority reduce the deficit by nearly £11.5 million.

The huge financial pressure are as a result of a £45 million reduction in the council’s government grant and millions of pounds of rising pressures from looking after children and adults in care.

Previous budget proposals were passed in July as the council is tackling its deficit over three phases.

The bus routes which will be affected have not been decided, but a council report has highlighted potential changes to the 60, 61, 62 and 63 services, as well as to the number 5 service.

A council spokesman said a decision on which services will be affected will made after “consultation with users, ward councillors and cross party working group members”.

Cabinet member for resources Cllr David Seaton, presenting the budget, said: “Funding cuts, inflation and huge demands from providing good children’s services to supporting an ageing population require the council to do much more, with much less.

“Like every other council we need to focus on what really matters, protecting vulnerable people and prioritising areas that will make Peterborough a place to be proud of in the future. We have delivered £120 million of investment into our city, much needed homes, hundreds of new jobs, new schools and a new university soon under way.”

But Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Nick Sandford was not so upbeat. He said: “I have to oppose this budget because there are some very bizarre claims in it regarding the numbers of passengers riding on routes where the council are proposing cuts in subsidies.

“When you read the report it becomes very clear that the cabinet members who propose these cuts which we are now being asked this evening to approve had no information on individual journeys from which to make their conclusions.

“As a result of this incomplete information they have come up with an arbitrary cut of £150,000 in the budget and I simply cannot support that. What is suggested is that we delay these cuts in services at least until we have had enough time to look at the passenger numbers more accurately.”

Cllr Ed Murphy (Labour and Co-operative) supported Cllr Sandford. He said: “People are very concerned about these proposed cuts in subsidies to our buses – it is the number one subject on which my constituents talk to me about.

“They’re scared that they are about to lose more buses, they are concerned that they’re not working very well at the moment and I agree with them – I do think that we have a problem with the buses in Peterborough.

“This council is interested only in car, car, car. We need to think about pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users and get that hierarchy right.”

Similar arguments came from Cllrs John Whitby (UKIP) and Darren Fower (Labour), backed up with comments from Labour group leader Cllr Shaz Nawaz, who also pointed out issues that had been raised about adult social care, an ageing population and poor standards in education.

He said: “When we stop listening to people we end up with the debacle called Rhubarb Bridge, so I think it is very important that we do listen to what the people of this city want from us.”

That was a reference to the cabinet changing its mind over plans to demolish the bridge by the A47/A15 junction.

Cllr Peter Hiller jumped to his feet, saying: “Mr Mayor, Rhubarb Bridge is currently undergoing a full renovation simply because we did listen to what the people of Peterborough wanted.”

Cllr Seaton summed up saying: “The councillors who have spoken might be happy to waste taxpayers money on empty buses, but I am not – and I therefore recommend that councillors vote to approve this budget.”

Councillors did approve the budget by 29 votes to 20, with three abstentions.

Other budget measures agreed last night include:

. Saving around £1 million from a remodelling of adult social care

. Plans to change school catchment areas to “ensure shorter routes” for children going to school

. An extra cost of around £3 million over the next three years for ICT due to a change in direction

. The relocation of the Visitor Information Centre in Bridge Street to a few doors down

. A rise in council tax collections of £490,000 due to “further improvement to council tax collection rates”

. A saving of £550,000 over three years from strengthening Rhubarb Bridge, and not demolishing it, as further big maintenance works will not be needed

. A £50,000 saving as road gullies will be maintained every four years instead of every two, unless there is a risk to property or highway safety

. A £66,000 saving from reducing the number of sexual health and contraceptive appointments at the iCaSH in Priestgate from 26,000 to 24,000

. A £300,000 saving from routine patching of roads and footways being stopped, with smaller patches left until the whole road needs fixing

. A £36,000 saving from removing a dedicated anti-social behaviour support. The Prevention and Enforcement Service will take on the role instead

. A £365,000 saving from the completion of the council’s LED street light replacement programme which is due to finish in 2019

. A £31,000 annual saving from removing a vacant post to support the council’s Environment Capital ambition

. The transfer of Gladstone Park Community Centre to Thomas Deacon Academy to run on a long term lease, with the management of St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool fully transferred to Vivacity

. Merging the road safety teams at Peterborough City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council.

The final set of proposals to trim the rest of the deficit will be revealed in the new year.

Rob Alexander, Local Democracy Reporting Service.

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