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Good news masks severe problems for socially necessary bus services

Costs of replacing local bus contracts have fallen for the 5th consecutive year according to the results of the Association of Transport Co-Ordinating Officers (ATCO) 2013 Price Expenditure and Competition (PEC) Survey.

The sixteenth annual PEC survey, shows that the cost of replacing local bus contracts fell by an average of 3.6% in the past 12 months.   

91 out of 130 Local Transport Authorities outside London responded to the survey which gives a unique snapshot of transport spending by local authorities.  This falls into three categories, contracts for socially necessary local bus services, education transport and special educational needs (SEN) transport. In more detail:

  • In order to maintain existing levels of support for socially necessary local buses, budgets would have to increase by an average of around 41/2% whereas cuts are already being made.
  • Some 26% of local authorities overall said they will cut services by March 2014 in order to stay within budget;
  • 27% of local authorities reported an increase in the rate at which commercial bus services are being de-registered, with 60% seeing a similar rate to the previous year;
  • The local authority spending cuts are offset in part by the continuing falls in contract prices, but formerly commercial services also meet social needs leading to calls for additional contracted services;
  • Costs of replacing school transport contracts fell by an average of 7.3% in the past 12 months to September 2013, for the 7th consecutive year with local authorities estimating that they would need a 2.1% budget growth to retain existing school transport service levels;
  • The cost of replacing SEN transport contracts fell, again for the 7th consecutive year, by an average of 3.2% but local authorities estimate that they will need 2.5% budget growth next year to retain existing SEN transport service levels.

ATCO chair David Blainey said: "At first glance this is good news, but the reality is that cuts in local authority spending in line with Government policy mean that authorities still cannot afford to support all the services for which there are real social needs."

Read more: Good news masks severe problems for socially necessary bus services

ATCO response to the Campaign for Better Buses report "Buses In Crisis. A report on Bus Funding across England and Wales"

ATCO welcomes the findings of the report, which identifies the risk to bus services that rely on council funding to operate, particularly but not only in large parts of rural Britain.

The findings support recent wide-ranging research that clearly identifies the value of bus services in enabling people to work, providing access to the essential opportunities that young people require to develop, in providing greater independence at all ages, and in improving health through providing access to increasingly remote health services and to healthy and active lifestyles.

The key government aims - of reducing public costs through prevention, by getting people off benefits and into work,  and reducing social care costs through promoting greater personal independence at all ages - is underpinned by bus services as the dominant public transport mode – and the essential connectivity that these services provide. There is little doubt that further cuts to council funded bus services will fatally undermine these key government policies in many areas of the country.

Government is urged to act quickly to protect these vital bus services, in the light of the weight of evidence that bus services are essential to these policy aims, before it is too late.


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