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Kent County Council to cut funding to 38 subsidised bus services across Kent

A last-ditch attempt to save 38 bus services across Kent from the axe has failed.

Kent County Council's cabinet member for transport, Cllr David Brazier, took the decision in July to withdraw subsidies paid to private operators to run services which are not commercially viable.

Arriva services are to be hit
Arriva services are to be hit

It would save the authority £2.2m from the £6m bus subsidy budget, but sparked outrage from bus users and opposition councillors at KCC.

A public consultation prompted 2,562 responses from resident, plus 55 individual letters and responses from four MPs.

A request for the decision to be called-in caused the plans to be put on hold in August, for a rethink.

But at a full council meeting on Thursday, members agreed to go ahead with the cuts.

Council leader Roger Gough said it was necessary to balance KCC's budget for this year and pointed out the authority was still spending £3.8m on buses that would otherwise not run.

Council leader Roger Gough
Council leader Roger Gough

He did, however, promise to create a cross-party working group to look at future bus service provision.

Cllr Dan Watkins (Con) said: "So many residents are going to experience real issues as a result of these cuts. They say, 'can't you think of something else to cut?' But what? This is a necessity."

Dr Lauren Sullivan (Lab) blamed the KCC cuts for triggering the further cuts by private operators across the network.

A number of bus operators took decisions to cut back on their own commercial services, hitting bus users with an even more reduced timetable.

She also said the authority had received an unexpected additional £7.6m in a business rate refund that had just been pushed into reserves.

She said: "We could have used some of that money to fund these services."

'Every resident without access to a car is going to be less independent as a result of these cuts'

Cllr Rich Lehmann (Green) said the cuts would "place a premium on rural living."

He also doubted that the saving would amount to £2.2m as KCC would face rising costs elsewhere as a result - particularly from children now entitled to free transport to school.

He said: "Every resident without access to a car is going to be less independent as a result of these cuts."

Cllr Richard Streatfeild (Lib Dem) said: "That little £2m cog was doing far more work than it was given credit for."

Its loss had "made bus services incomparably worse."

Cllr Richard Streatfeild
Cllr Richard Streatfeild

Cllr Sarah Hudson was one of the few Conservative councillors to oppose the cuts. She said: "Good bus services are vital in tackling social exclusion and loneliness.

"I did not stand for election to make the lives of my electors worse."

But Cllr Brazier, who made the cuts decision, said that although his postbag had been filled with complaints about lost services, relatively few had been about the services that KCC was ceasing to subsidise.

He said "That's because so few people use them."

The complaints had been about the withdrawal of the commercial services. He said: "People have wrongly conflated the two issues."

But Cllr Alister Brady (Lab) said that the KCC decision to cut services had "given the green light to operators to do the same."

Arriva services are to be hit
Arriva services are to be hit

He said: "This was a political choice."

Cllr Tony Hills (Con) told the chamber: "No-one wishes to remove any subsidy, but we have to get real."

But Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Independents) addressed the council leader, saying: "It's really time you started to listen to people and stopped thinking you were above the concerns of mere mortals."

He said: "In the consultation, 1,050 people said they would have no alternative means of travel to one of the withdrawn services. This is going to impact on the most vulnerable: - the elderly, the young and those in rural areas."

He said there would be other costs to pay - in terms of more congestion more pollution and higher road maintenance bills.

Cllr Sarah Hudson was one of few Tories to oppose the cuts
Cllr Sarah Hudson was one of few Tories to oppose the cuts

Cllr Mel Dawkins (Lab) suggested the council did a U-turn but the Conservative majority in the council chamber ensured the decision was affirmed.

The 38 services were scheduled to stop at the end of October. But the review process had delayed the issuing of the 90-day contractual notice period, meaning the last buses will now be on February 12. To see if your route will be affected click here.

However, KCC will be adding £350,000 to the existing £100,000 Community Transport Fund.

The scheme offers support to parish councils, charities and community groups wishing to run their own local transport service - often using volunteer drivers.

Cllr Gough, said: “We know buses are hugely valued by many residents.

'I am frankly disgusted at the Conservatives’ failure to support these essential services'

He said: "Parishes and communities are best placed to know how to help their residents and we look forward to welcoming applications later this year.”

Speaking after the meeting, Maidstone Borough Councillor Cllr Stuart Jeffery (Green) issued a statement saying: “The Conservatives on Kent County Council really don’t understand the impact of the cuts to the 14 bus services in Maidstone that they heartlessly waived through today.

“There are multiple crises happening such as cost of living, the climate and energy. Public transport is the answer to many of these yet cutting essential services just creates a further crisis, that of isolation.

“Our Green County Councillors have led the fight to save these services but their voices and those of thousands of people who have spoken out have been ignored. I am frankly disgusted at the Conservatives’ failure to support these essential services.”

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