‘Now’s the time to start any fight to stop cuts to buses in Horncastle’

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A leading campaigner says he fears Lincolnshire County Council is planning more cuts to bus services.

Dick Fowler, who lives in Tetford, has previously opposed cuts to public transport, particularly in rural areas.

He is calling on residents and council to start lobbying now against potential cuts.

Two weeks ago, the News revealed local town councillors were worried about a reduction in services and, in particular, on the 6C route that links Horncastle and Louth.

Town councillor Rose Williams described the service as a ‘lifeline’ for people who relied on it to attend appointments at Louth Hospital.

However, she told fellow councillors that the route was subsidised by the county council at a cost of £57,000-a-year.

Coun Williams said she feared it was vulnerable with the county council facing on-going funding problems.

Town councillors agreed to oppose any cuts but council chairman Brian Burbidge indicated the time to object was next year - when the county authority announced its plans.

However, Mr Fowler said: “Coun Burbridge is fundamentally wrong in saying wait 
until next year; that is too late 
to object effectively.

“Firstly, once the council budget is set by full council in February 2018 the process legally limits any objections to mere detail.

“The judgement in the second (failed) Lincolnshire Libraries judicial review made this clear.

“The government spending settlement is announced over Christmas but only really fine tunes the figures already known.

“Secondly, the extra government cash which reprieved our supported buses in 2016 runs out in six months and the county council tell us at frequent intervals how dire the funding situation is for everything including schools and 
social care.

“ It is simply not credible that LCC have no contingency plans ready for different levels of bus subsidy cuts which they could and should make public without trying to keep us in the dark.”

Mr Fowler went on to question claims by Horncastle’s county councillor Bill Aron that the authority was planning to announce a trial of additional journeys on the 6C route.

Mr Fowler said: “Coun Aron accidentally announced a trial increase in the 6C service. Unfortunately, LCC advise hat the trial involves extra times on the Horncastle based Call Connect minibuses only - not the Horncastle-Louth service.

“Coun Williams is correct about the subsidy levels on the 6C Horncastle-Louth and Stagecoach 6 Lincoln-Skegness routes but I would add that the loss of evening services is due to cutbacks made by stealth over several years and is still 
going on.

“Louth quietly lost its evening bus to Skegness a few months ago. Nobody has mentioned Horncastle’s 65 service lost in 2016, nor the PC Coaches 10 Horncastle-Bardney-Lincoln service which is subsidised, as is part of the Brylaine 6 service to Boston.

“There were ‘no plans’ (to cut services) in September 2015 but yey presto, ten weeks later, substantial cuts to bus subsidies (£2.2m) were proposed.

“It is most important bus users - and the Town Council - demand meaningful answers now, in time for residents to lobby our MPs for fairer funding.”

Tetford & Salmonby Parish Council are so concerned about the threat to supported local buses that they

have initiated a residents travel survey; a contingency study of alterative (eg community) transport and have

also written to Victoria Atkins MP asking her to urge Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) to hold a ‘full and

proper’ public consultation across the county this autumn. They have also contacted Louth and Horncastle

Town Councils suggesting a common approach. The aims of ‘a full and proper’ consultation are to:

 inform Lincolnshire households, one fifth of which have no car, (one tenth in rural areas)

 gather evidence for constituents to lobby their respective MPs to seek fair funding from government,

 give communities the chance to consider alternatives, if any eg community transport

 recognise material changes to the Local Transport Plan LTP4 (accessibility, healthcare & growth).

18 months ago the efforts of MPs, LCC, residents, national campaign groups and the media secured extra

Government funding and a reprieve for about 130 rural bus subsidies. That money runs out in March 2018

and the financial picture is bleaker than ever. Nationally, councils across the UK have slashed rural bus

subsidies and the Local Government Association belatedly woke up and told government of their concern,

with little tangible effect. The huge disparity in North-South government spending on transport remains.

Consultation ‘rules’ essentially mean enough time (preferably 12 weeks), sufficient detail to be clear about

the content and aims but not so late or prescriptive as to be mere rubber stamping. Derbyshire County

Council recently undertook a bus cuts consultation. LCC are in a position to do so now but regrettably, our

elected representatives in LCC are playing ‘deny and delay’ so that they face little resistance until the 2018-

2019 budgets are set, by which time it will be too late to object. LCC do not wish to involve the public even

though it worked in 2016. The intention seems to be to ‘consult’ eventually on the detail not the substance.

LCC are warning of the huge cuts they have to make to services generally while at the same time making

soothing noises over specifics including bus subsidies. LCC responses to date such as “no decisions will be

made until 2018…” are meaningless unless backed up by ring-fenced funding and contracts running

beyond 2019 without break-clauses. Remember that LCC surprised the public with £2.2m in proposed cuts

to rural bus subsidies as part of a £42million cuts ‘survey’ announced just before Christmas 2016-17.

Cumulative cuts since 2009/10 mean that people in rural Lincolnshire simply cannot rely on a dwindling

bus service with deteriorating connections to get to work or to increasingly distant medical services.

Furthermore, though the Local Transport Plan (LTP4) is coy about buses (“challenging”) and tries to shift

attention to faltering community transport initiatives the past and likely removal of millions of passenger

journeys from overall capacity will undermine accessibility, housing development, business or tourism.

LCC officers have been ‘adjusting’ bus services and subsidies continuously and have shown great ingenuity

over back-office savings and 'smarter' bus use intended to get more from less. The ‘Total Transport’ trial to

combine public, NHS, Social Services and Schools transport is struggling; Community minibus brokerage

has vanished; volunteer cars need more drivers and have no capability to transport people in wheelchairs.

LCC said that they would try to protect main Interconnect bus services and the Call Connect service. There

are about 260+ ‘ad-hoc’ services of which about 110 are schools services permitted to carry ordinary

passengers. The other 150 mainly serve rural areas, market towns and suburbs and these are most at risk.

Many councils have already stopped free Bus Pass travel before 0930, which is still free in Lincolnshire.

Call Connect is unlikely to remain the same as extra passengers displaced from reduced fixed-route

services compete for bookings. This translates into being far less flexible in order to carry more people. We

already see Call Connect giving preference to organised groups (eg healthcare or social groups) or making

Call Connect minibuses do double-duty. The revised 39 Skegness Town Service now uses an existing Call

Connect minibus for some fixed-route journeys then for flexible bookings for the rest of the day. The result is

less overall capacity on fixed-route journeys and less bookable journeys than previously.