Bus Services after the Spending Review - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Somerset County Council (BUS 135)


1.  Somerset County Council faces a Budget deficit of £75 million over the next three years. One area of savings identified was a reduction in financial support for local bus services. The reduction agreed by Councillors was £2.4 million out of an annual budget of £5.2 million. Reductions to bus services and in particular evening and Sunday Services were discussed in Cabinet and Full Council meetings at which members of the public and transport user groups were present. The decision to withdraw funding from Evening and Sunday bus services initially was taken to protect the funding of daytime bus services for as long as possible. A significant proportion of evening and Sunday bus services have been taken on commercially by bus operators. A further cut of £1.4 million is required over the next two financial years and measures are already being put in place to consult more widely and allow more time for public comments and suggestions.

2.  Somerset County Council has a gap between income and expenditure of £75 million over the next three years. These financial pressures have come about due to three main factors: the Government's announcement reducing our income, the huge pressure we face from a growing elderly and vulnerable population and the expense that brings and, locally, from the level of debt we are carrying at Somerset County Council.

3.  As a result of this financial situation Councillors have been forced to make decisions to reduce expenditure across a range of services provided by the Authority and one area where funding reductions were identified was in our support for local public bus services.

4.  Our budget for local bus services for 2010-11 stood at £5.2 million. Due to the rural nature of the County the vast majority of bus services in Somerset receive some level of direct financial support from us. This funding provides a wide range of services across the county from Market Day routes, School and College Day services, Evening and Sunday services, regular daytime services and a Park & Ride scheme in Taunton. The scale of the reduction in funding for local bus services identified was £2.4 million over a three year period which represents a very significant reduction in this budget.

5.  Some months before any changes were made; information was made available in a general sense indicating that financial support for all Evening and Sunday bus services was under threat. These proposals were discussed in both Cabinet and Full Council meetings which were attended by members of the public and representatives of user groups such as the Campaign for Better Transport and Passengers Focus and widely reported in the local press.

6.  The withdrawal of funding for Evening and Sunday bus services along with a very small number of poorly supported daytime services enabled us to reach our initial savings target of just under £1 million for the first year of our funding reductions. The thinking behind the focus on Evening and Sunday services was two-fold. Firstly our belief that we should continue to protect daytime services for as long as possible in order to facilitate transport for the majority of residents travelling to work, education, medical appointments and social activities. Secondly, our records suggested that within our funding for these services there were significant elements of the timetables that could be operated commercially and therefore we believed that the market would best identify those services during the evening and Sundays that were sustainable.

This view has been borne out by the commercial registration of a significant proportion of the services we withdrew funding for.

7.  We did consider continuing funding some evening and Sunday services and withdrawing more daytime services in the first year. But if we had pursued this course of action we would have offered support for the most popular of these services whereas as it has turned out these have been re-instated commercially allow us to save funding which will enable us to protect more daytime services in the future.

8.  As we continue to address our funding deficit further reductions totalling £1.4 million are planned for our local bus service funding in the next two financial years. Knowing the scale of the funding reductions we now have to make will allow us to move forward much earlier with proposals for reductions in the next two financial years. We have already arranged to hold an additional Public Transport Forum meeting at County Hall in Taunton in early July. This will allow us to begin to formulate our plans by taking comments and observations from user groups, operators and members of the public before drawing up and publishing our proposals for further reductions later in the year giving considerably more time for consultation and comment from the wider public before final decisions are taken on the reductions for the 2012-13 financial year.

April 2011

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Prepared 11 August 2011