Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hicks backs down over bus route subsidies (at least for the moment)

Cornwall Council has backed down in the row over disappearing bus subsidies after a day of outrage across the airwaves. Councillors received an email just after 5pm this evening from Cllr Graeme Hicks, Cabinet Member for Transportation, saying:

"I have called for a temporary halt in the process so I can reflect on the best way forward"

That is the good news and something for which Cllr Hicks has form. The bad news is the the Council still seems to be intent on making draconian cuts and the bus companies have confirmed that their reaction would be to slash services and one threatened to pull out of Cornwall altogether.

The day started with the issue hitting the West Briton and Radio Cornwall having debuted on Westcountry TV last night. The major bus companies confirmed that they had both received the letter I reproduced in my last post.

I understand that Cllr Hicks was then called in for 'urgent consultations' with the Chief Executive. He then made a statement to Radio Cornwall that 'an officer letter' had been sent to the bus companies which contained 'a proposed course of action' and they were now meeting with the bus companies to discuss the way forward. I hardly think it appropriate for Cllr Hicks to blame officers for this. It does give the impression that he doesn't know what is happening in his department.

Both major bus companies have confirmed that they didn't think the letter was an opening gambit but instead a final statement of what would be forced upon them. Hence their reaction by saying that they would be cutting 17 routes in one case and 20 in another. It was put to the boss of First Group that they might pull out of Cornwall altogether and he agreed they might do so.

The Director of Travelwatch South West was also interviewed and he suggested that the Council's actions might also be illegal as they do not give adequate notice.

Cllr Hicks is making the claim that these cuts have been forced on Cornwall Council by government cuts. We all know that the Government has made cuts in the amount of grant it gives to Cornwall, but this cut was made back in January and the Council adopted a budget based on those cuts in February. So why the sudden need to save money halfway through the year?

And so, after a day of to-ing and fro-ing, Cllr Hicks sent his email to all members announcing his backdown. I can't pretend that all is now well, but at least the bus routes are not in danger of imminent cuts and the council is going to talk to the bus companies about how to go forward - something many of us think should have been the first action, not the last.

I also understand that this issue will be on the agenda for scrutiny committee next Wednesday.

1 comment:

Leo Penbloedh said...

we all know that it is your government that made the cuts, and local Councils across the country are cutting funding to subsidised public transport routes. your electorate are not thick