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Kent County Council leader Paul Carter hits out at bus cut critics

By Paul Francis

The leader of Kent County Council has taken on critics who have complained about proposals to cut the budget for buses by £4m, accusing them of failing to understand the issue.

Paul Carter tackled head-on the issue today after 13 of the county’s MPs wrote to him urging a rethink on cuts to 78 socially necessary bus services.

The plans have caused a furore, with complaints that they will isolate people living in villages and rural areas who rely on them as their only way of getting about.

An Arriva bus. Stock image

An Arriva bus. Stock image

Mr Carter issued an apology today, saying he regretted the release of the 78 routes, and said there was now a review which could well reduce the number of services affected.

He told members the authority had not ‘axed’ any subsidies for bus routes in the last 12 months and that its budget for subsidised buses had remained constant for 2017-18 at £7.5m.

He said: “It is true that bus subsidies are among the potential savings we must look at in the coming budget in February but we understand the importance of these transport arrangements to people and we are progressing a programme that could potentially significantly reduce the list of affected routes in advance of the public consultation, set to start on 18 January.”

Kent County Council leader Paul Carter (Con)

Kent County Council leader Paul Carter (Con)

He added he would meet with Arriva and Stagecoach to establish which routes they will run as scheduled and which will need subsidy ahead of a consultation on Socially Necessary Bus Service funding in January.

“The discussions with commercial bus operators will look at the likelihood of the bus companies taking on well-used routes which could prove to be commercially viable,” he said.

Opposition Lib Dem leader on KCC, Cllr Rob Bird, said the council should have acted sooner to address the large subsidies that some services received: "They are vital for people who cannot get around and who are in rural areas... they are part of our community.

"What really bugs me  about this whole process is how we got to where we are. Why do we support a bus service that carries two people at a cost of £17 for each journey?"

Green councillor Martin Whybrow welcomed the news of a review but said MPs who had written to the council to complain "should have written to the Chancellor" to ask for more funding.

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