Northumberland residents encouraged to have say on buses

Liberal Democrat candidate Julie Porksen
Liberal Democrat candidate Julie Porksen

Lib Dems in north Northumberland are encouraging students, residents and parish councils to feed in to the current consultation on subsidised bus services.

Part of Northumberland County Council’s budget reductions is a review of subsidised bus services, designed to save £200,000. Although the vast majority of Northumberland’s bus services are commercially operated, 51 services, mainly in the rural north and west of the county, are subsidised.

Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Berwick, Julie Pörksen, said: “It is nonsensical that the Labour county council is proposing cutting bus services just at the point when we need them even more. The council has forced sixth-formers to travel to school on service buses rather than school buses, and many students are now finding it difficult to travel to and from school and college.

“Given the number of new village housing developments approved and in the planning system, it is very short-sighted of Northumberland County Council not to invest in improving bus services in our rural areas. Even patient transport services are expecting more people to travel by bus to their appointments.

“I hope many people including students and their families will express their views in the consultation. We also cannot get to the point where there’s no point in having a concessionary bus pass because there’s no bus to use it on.”

The local authority currently spends £2.4million every year on subsidising bus services. The amount of subsidy the county council pays per passenger journey ranges from 96p to more than £14 per individual journey. Factors that affect the amount of financial support include how many passengers use a particular service and whether or not the passenger is using a concessionary (discounted) pass to travel.

Coun Ian Swithenbank, policy board responsible for streetcare and environment at Northumberland County Council, said: “We have outlined criteria for subsidised bus services in the future which we believe will ensure that they properly meet the needs local communities, provide more focused services and provide better value from limited resources.

“While £200,000 sounds a significant sum, it is only 10 per cent of the £2.4million budget for subsidised services, and through reviewing them and focusing them more closely on needs we are aiming for minimal disruption and a positive impact for many communities. We are consulting widely with communities across the county and encouraging everyone with an interest to complete the survey.

“We are asking people when and why they use bus services, and to comment on the criteria proposed. We want to know the relative importance of enabling people to get to work, supporting social activity and enabling children to travel to their nearest suitable school or college. The review should help us better understand and meet the needs of our communities, both urban and rural.

“Like all local authorities Northumberland County Council is facing huge pressures on its budgets through cuts in Government Grant and it is only right that we should review the current arrangements to make sure that they provide value for money for taxpayers while meeting, as far as is possible, the essential travel needs of Northumberland’s residents.”

The consultation can be found on the county council website and runs until Thursday, March 26.