BUS firm Norfolk Green says efforts to provide extra services to rural areas could become “less and less likely” if operators are hit hard by future spending cuts.
Managing director Ben Colson has described the situation as “extremely serious” following the release of a Government report highlighting the impact on services after last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
The report warns rural areas, the elderly, the young and the disabled are most at risk from the next round of cuts which are expected to hit bus services in 2012-13. Mr Colson was among those called to give evidence to the Transport Select Committee.
“I am hoping the Government will rethink its agenda,” he said. “What the report appears to highlight are serious concerns.
“The situation is getting extremely serious. In the last decade, the Government passed legislation after legislation which put up the cost of operating buses, then this Government is spending time cutting public funding.
“It’s the combination of the two which is so toxic.”
Earlier this month, our sister paper the Spalding Guardian reported how Mr Colson had struck a deal to provide extra services through Moulton after villagers campaigned against service cuts.
Mr Colson says future cuts will mean such pledges will become “less and less likely”, but he vows the firm is looking to “do whatever they can” for passengers.
He believes operators will have a better picture of the financial difficulties they face by the end of this year.
Mr Colson said: “What we have got to do is start planning. We know the cut in the Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) is happening and we know by how much but we do not know how much the county council will cut from subsidised services.
“We also do not know how much the local authority may or may not cut from the concessionary fares scheme.
“Once we have that then we can start working out how we can save that money in such a way that minimises the impact on customers.”
The report, which was published on Thursday, made a series of recommendations and called for the Department for Transport and the Local Government Association (LGA) to implement them “as a matter of urgency”.
It stated: “We recognise that the scale of local authority budgetary reductions in some areas mean that cut-backs are inevitable. It must be demonstrated – not least for the benefit of bus users around the country – that lessons have been learned from the mistakes made during the current round of cuts to bus services.”