Bus subsidies to be capped as part of budget reductions

A bus travelling through Northumberland.
A bus travelling through Northumberland.

A new policy for supported bus services which will limit the maximum level of subsidy to £7 per passenger journey is set to be implemented.

Northumberland County Council has undertaken a review of supported bus services as it looks to cut £200,000 from the budget.

A report to Wednesday’s meeting of the authority’s communities and local services scrutiny committee recommends that the council should proceed with the planned budget reduction, ‘achieved primarily through efficiencies and the renegotiation of contracts’.

It is also recommended that three priorities are adopted as a basis for determining future funding of the subsidised bus network.

The first is supporting economic activity, enabling residents and visitors to get to key centres during peak times.

The second is supporting social activity, enabling residents to access essential services during the day, on a minimum of one day per week, while the third is enabling children to travel to the nearest suitable school or college.

During the consultation, a large proportion of respondents strongly agreed that the three priorites put forward should be used when commissioning bus services.

The other recommendation in the report is to implement a maximum level of subsidy of £7 per passenger journey subject to certain exemptions. This was increased from £6 in the consultation document in response to comments.

The amount of subsidy the county council currently pays per passenger journey ranges from 96p to more than £14.

In the past, the county council has used a simple cost per passenger criteria to assess value for money, but, as the report sets out, the disadvantage of this is that it tends to give priority to short urban services which may be less valuable than longer rural services.

The proposed system combines cost per passenger and passenger need/benefit, essentially meaning the more rural the service, the higher the subdsidy can be, subject to funding and the £7 maximum.

The majority of respondents (64 per cent) stated that the budget reduction – £200,000 from a £2.4million total – should be smaller than proposed, but it is recommended that ‘while unpopular’, the council should proceed given current financial pressures.