Bus subsidies cut 'by up to 55%'

Bus subsidies across England have been slashed by as much as 55% by councils, according to figures uncovered by Labour.

Buses in Regent Street.
Bus subsidies across England have been slashed by as much as 55% by councils, according to figures uncovered by Labour.

Freedom of information (FOI) requests by former Cabinet minister Hilary Benn found that bus services across shire counties and unitary authorities had seen their grants cut by an average of 23% and 24% respectively.

The real-term cuts are based on subsidy changes since 2010, when the coalition Government was formed.

Labour found that Shire counties have cut their subsidies by 23% from an average of £5.62 million in 2010/11 to £4.34 million in 2013/14, while unitary authorities (town and city councils large enough to function independently of county administrations) have undergone cuts of 24% from an average of £1.20 million in 2010/11 to £0.91 million in 2013/14.

Labour said that the biggest real terms cuts to council support for bus services between 2010/11 and 2013/14 took place at Conservative-run authorities; Northamptonshire County Council cut its subsidy by 55%, Suffolk County Council by 50% and Hertfordshire County Council by 40%.

Mr Benn, shadow communities and local government secretary, warned that vulnerable people would be left "stranded".

He said: "It couldn't be clearer to local residents that vital front-line services are disappearing dramatically as cuts to councils intensify.

"David Cameron needs to get a grip and ensure that elderly and disabled residents are able to get the bus to their local villages and towns and are not left stranded at home."

Shadow buses minister Gordon Marsden said that Conservative transport policy was damaging the rural economy.

"Bus services in rural areas are crucial not just for older people, but also young people trying to get to work or college," he said.

"Buses are a lifeline for people in towns and villages and Tory cuts on this scale damage the rural economy as well as individuals' life chances."

FOI requests were sent to all 27 shire county councils and 55 unitary authorities; 23 county councils and 53 unitary authorities subsequently responded. The survey asked: "Would you please tell me how much your council spent in pounds sterling on subsidising local bus services in FY 2010/11, FY 2011/12, FY 2012/13 and FY 2013/14."

A House of Commons briefing paper on bus subsidies published in December 2013 outlined concerns some people had about the sustainability of local bus services.

The paper stated: "Since the 2010 General Election concerns have been expressed about whether local authorities would be able to sustain their previous levels of spending on subsidised bus services. This is because these types of service are funded out of general local authority budgets, and Government funding to councils has decreased by 27%, in real terms, since 2010/11.

"Campaigners have pointed to service reductions that have occurred as the result of budget cuts, while the Government has insisted that local authorities now have more autonomy to make choices about how they spend their budgets and it is up to them to prioritise services for their areas.

"In its August 2011 report the Transport Select Committee concluded that reductions in local authority budgets, combined with changes to other support mechanism such as Bus Service Operators Grant and concessionary fares, had led to some local authorities withdrawing subsidised bus services 'with inadequate or no consultation', affecting 'some of the most vulnerable people in society, including the elderly'."

A Government spokesman said: "We know that rural bus services are vital, including for many older and disabled people. That is why the right to free travel is enshrined in law and government provides funding to meet the cost of subsidising off peak travel for these groups.

"In addition, the Department for Transport provides substantial funding to bus operators to help more services run and keep ticket prices down. The current level of this funding is protected until 2015/16, in rural areas as it is elsewhere."