Shropshire Star

Shropshire's rural buses under threat says councillor amid claims of funding cuts

Rural subsidised buses in Shropshire are under threat according to opposition councillors who fear funding has been cut.

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Bus services have been under pressure during the pandemic, with many fewer customers than usual, and councillors believe that a crunch is looming on the horizon.

Councillor Nigel Hartin, Shropshire Councillor for Clun and the Lib Dems' shadow lead for communities, culture, leisure and tourism, fears that Government funding has been slashed.

Councillor Hartin said: “The central plank to Government's 'levelling up' strategy was called the 'Bus Back Better' strategy published last year. It promised £3bn in funding to transform bus services across the country.

"However, a Department of Transport letter recently leaked to the press shows that this pot has now been shrunk by more than 50 per cent by the Treasury to £1.4bn.

"This letter makes clear the lack of funding by saying 'prioritisation is inevitable, given the scale of ambition across the country greatly exceeds the amount'."

Mr Hartin says bids to the Government for money are likely to exceed £9 billion.

Bus Back Better is a strategy for buses in England, outside London, with the aim of transforming public transport with simpler fares, thousands of new buses, improved routes and higher frequencies.

Alongside this, passenger numbers have dropped drastically and emergency funding comes to an end at the end of next month.

Mr Hartin claims that many bus companies struggling for passengers are compiling lists of services to be scrapped.

The councillor concludes that cash-strapped councils like Shropshire are unlikely to be able to find money to maintain routes requiring subsidies, typically those in rural or isolated communities and those running outside peak hours.

He says this may put routes like the Bishop's Castle to Shrewsbury (553), the Ludlow to Knighton (738) and the Pontesbury to Ludlow (775) at risk.

He's pressing the council over what it is doing to put pressure on the Department for Transport, and how much money is available.

He added: “Good public transport is critical in reducing our carbon footprint and protecting the environment. It seems the Government is rapidly back peddling on this policy and we need rapid action from the council if Shropshire bus users are not going to suffer.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said that the Government has provided "unprecedented support" to more than 160 bus operators across the country to keep services running during the pandemic.

"And we’re working closely with the sector to understand the potential challenges and possible mitigations once it ends in April," he said.

He flatly rejected a claim that funding has been cut "from our original ambition".

"By 2025, the Government will have invested more than £3bn into bus services, including £1.2bn to improve fares, services and infrastructure, and a further £525m for zero emission buses.”

The spokesman said they have provided unprecedented support for local transport during the pandemic. Details of allocations of Bus Service Improvement Plan funding will come by the end of February.

"Overall funding for buses from 2020/21 to 2024/25 is expected to be over £5bn," he said.