Further �1m bus cuts loom for Norfolk

The next raft of cuts to bus services in Norfolk will 'inevitably' lead to fewer buses at night and on Sundays, with some services axed altogether, council bosses have admitted.

But Norfolk County Council hopes an army of volunteer drivers will step into the breach, with the council hoping to help community transport schemes grow.

Officers at County Hall are drawing up plans to cut �1m – a third of the budget – out of what the authority spends subsidising scores of local buses for the next financial year.

And they say that will mean 'significant changes to how services are delivered', with a warning that 'provision will reduce overall'.

While the specifics for 2012/13 have yet to be drawn up, a report which will go before county councillors this week states the emphasis will be on protecting daytime and journey-to-work buses.

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But to protect those services, evening and Sunday services would be sacrificed, with funding cut or withdrawn completely.

To make up for the loss of those bus services, officers plan to accelerate a move towards more demand responsive transport (DRT), especially in rural areas.

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The council was recently awarded �480,000 by the government to support the community transport sector and hopes community transport, the award-winning Flexibus service, car sharers, car clubs and volunteer drivers will plug the gap left by bus service cuts.

A community transport steering group and a community transport providers forum have already been set up and met for the first time this month to consider how to ensure people in Norfolk can still get about.

A volunteer driver recruitment scheme was launched at last month's Royal Norfolk Show, while moves are under way to set up a Norfolk Community Transport Association.

Graham Plant, cabinet member for planning and transportation at Norfolk County Council, said: 'That is part of us asking people to volunteer, which is the direction the government has indicated it wants us to go in.

'We are asking people to use their own cars to help get people around and in return they will get some money for their petrol and an allowance.

'If we can build that up, it will reduce the need for unprofitable bus services in the rural areas. We'd like to build up a network which can be used by everybody.

'There's lots of people out there with spare time and we can only ask if any of them are willing to do it and if so, we will help them do it.

'What you have to remember in all this, is that where the bus services are not profitable, we are having to subsidise them.

'We are having to look at whether that is the best way to spend the money and how much we can afford, especially given we are still trying to get �3m back from the government in money we didn't get to cover concessionary bus fares.

'It's really difficult and a balancing act to do what we can with the money we have available.'

But Andrew Boswell, Green Party spokesman for environment, transport and development at County Hall, said: 'They are trying to do the Big Society stuff and, while I'd say, yes, it is good to encourage community groups, it's not realistic to base the whole rural transport strategy on that happening.

'They will cut and erode the service and then hope the gaps will be plugged by volunteers. It shows the weakness of the Big Society idea.

'Once those rural services have gone, it will be incredibly difficult to bring them back.'

The report also reveals how the council hopes to stop subsidising Park and Ride completely within two years, having already slashed that subsidy from �1.97m in 2010/11 to an estimated �600,000 in 2011/12.

Frequency of those services has already been cut, some late night services and Saturday services have been dropped, free travel for concessionary bus pass holders axed and toilets have been closed at the sites.

But, in the longer term, the authority wants to transfer the park and ride sites, of which there are six around Norwich, to a not-for-profit organisation.

Mr Plant explained: 'On the park and ride issue, the only bit we are still paying a lot for is the business rates on the sites.

'If we can form some sort of trust to take on the sites then they would not have to pay the business rates, so that would mean that hundreds of thousands of pounds which could be put back into bus services.

'We are trying to see if that is feasible.'

The county council is committed to making �155m of savings over the next three years and has already cut �450,000 from local bus services for this financial year.


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