Councillors unite behind Norfolk fair bus fares campaign

A Fair Fares campaign calling on the Government to bridge a �4.5m shortfall in Norfolk's funding for concessionary fares was yesterday launched at County Hall.

Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis, who has secured a Westminster Hall debate on rural buses on October 11, was pictured with county councillors by a giant bus ticket to highlight the issue.

The campaign, which will see petitions placed on buses around the county, is being backed by all the county's MPs as well as businesses, rural campaigners and the bus companies which receive the subsidies for carrying passengers paying concessionary fares.

Earlier, councillors had offered their unanimous support for the lobbying campaign during a debate in which they highlighted how vital rural bus services were in a county like Norfolk.

Council leader Derrick Murphy described it as an 'absolutely critical issue' and said the lack of logic in the government's funding formula was shown by the fact that while Norfolk had lost more than �4m, Suffolk had suffered a cut of little more that �1m and Essex only �680,000.

John Dobson highlighted the grave plight of elderly people in isolated villages like Little and Great Massingham if the rural bus service suffered.

He said: 'In such places that are out on a limb, elderly people who often don't have cars would be completely isolated'.

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Bill Borrett said: 'The grant we have got is far lower than neighbouring county councils; we just want a fair deal for Norfolk and its residents.'

It was also pointed out during the debate that even larger communities like Long Stratton would be hit hard if bus services were reduced; many young people used the bus to get from Long Stratton to Norwich for weekend jobs and the only alternative would be relying on parents to drive them.

Towns would equally suffer if people were unable to get in to access shops and amenities.

Mr Lewis, declaring himself a 'passionate supporter of the bus service in Norfolk', said the present funding system was very complicated and treated rural communities worse than metropolitan areas, with Norfolk getting a particularly hard deal.

He said it was important to make ministers understand how serious the situation is.

The impact of the funding gap this year was reduced to �3m after the council worked with bus operators to reduce the subsidies it pays them.

However, next year, there will be less room for negotiation with bus companies being hit by a rise in fuel duty.

stephen.pullinger@archant.co.uk