Save money to rescue bus services, councils told

12 August 2011

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12 August 2011 | Angeline Albert

Councils must come up with “imaginative” approaches to save money through procurement to prevent cuts to bus services, according to transport minister Norman Baker.

Responding to criticism from MPs over reductions to local bus operations Baker said: “The government accepts that the overall funding settlement for local authorities is challenging. We are keeping a close eye on whether councils are approaching this imaginatively, finding savings in procurement and back-room staff, or just reaching for the axe and cutting front-line services.”

The UK government’s spending review has led to a 28 per cent reduction in local authority revenue this year and a 20 per cent cut in the bus service operator’s grant from next year.

Yesterday the House of Commons Transport Committee criticised local authorities for cutting bus services in England, which they say could be prevented with procurement’s help.

The Committee’s report Bus Services after theSpending Review, on England’s bus services outside London, said: “The Department [for Transport] (DfT) should identify examples of best practice of local authorities that have responded innovatively to budgetary pressures to provide a cost-effective, flexible mix of local transport services. The Local Government Association should play a key role in disseminating these examples of best practice across local authorities.”

The group of MPs also warned deeper cuts to bus services are likely from 2012, as councils struggle to deal with budget reductions. “The DfT should seek information about the provision of alternative transport modes, such as community transport, in areas where local authorities have scaled back tendered services,” advised the report.

Louise Ellman, MP and chairman of the Committee, said: “We have seen a significant number of bus services withdrawn around the country and there is every indication that fares are set to rise well above the rate of inflation in some areas. We know that more than 70 per cent of local authorities have moved rapidly to reduce funding for supported bus services, forcing most operators to withdraw services or push up fares - or both.”

Baker said the government was monitoring the effects of changes to the bus market since the spending review, and would respond formally to the report in the next few months.

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