Stillington & Whitton

Public Meeting Regarding the Withdrawal of Subsidies for Bus Services in Stockton-on-Tees – 15th January 2013

District Cllr. A Stephenson (Chair)                  District Cllr. J Beal
District Cllr. B Cook                                         District Cllr. K Lupton
Parish Cllr J Turner
R McGuckin – SBC – Head of Technical Services
J Kavanagh – SBC – Public Transport Manager

123 Members of public attended the meeting

Apologies for absence were received from TVRCC, Alex Cunningham MP, District Cllr McGurkin and District Cllr Ahmed.

Cllr. Turner welcomed the Councillors and SBC Officers to the meeting.

Cllr. A Stephenson read out various pieces of correspondence relating to the subject matter to be discussed.

The panel were asked if they could explain the reasons for the withdrawal of the subsidies to the members of public present.

R. McGuckin explained that as cuts had been made to SBC fund from central govt. the elected members for SBC have had to make some difficult decisions.  He ensured everyone present was aware that Councils do not run bus services and have not done so since the 1980’s.  Since then SBC has subsidised non-profitable bus routes to maintain bus services throughout the borough.  Currently £300000 a year is spent on subsidies.  This funding will cease on 31st March 2014.

SBC Officers have started to work with communities who will be affected by the withdrawal of subsidies to try and come up with alternative solutions.  SBC have allocated £400000 for 2014/15 to be used to kick start community transport projects.  Parish Councils and other community groups will be able to bid for a portion of this money to use in their area.

R. McGuckin said he had some positive news from Arriva.  He had received notification earlier that day that Arriva are planning to continue a bus service from Stillington to Stockton Centre from April 2014.  It is envisaged that the service will go via Redmarshall and Hartburn but other than that the route had not been determined.  It may not go via the Horse and Jockey roundabout so may not provide access to Tesco and North Tees Hospital.  The finalised route will need to be registered 56 days before the service starts.

Cllr. K Lupton stated that this would alleviate some concerns but until the route is finalised only so much can be clarified.

A member of public stated that SBC should have a moral obligation to prevent communities from becoming isolated.

J Kavanagh stated that the threat to the bus services is not a new problem for this area.  In 2011 subsidies were reduced and SBC were able to retain most services to some extent but now that the full subsidy is to be withdrawn this will not be possible.  Most other local authorities withdrew subsidies two or three years ago, SBC is unusual in that is has managed to support the bus services until now.

J Kavanagh explained that bus operators can reduce the frequency or change the route of a bus service – this is their decision, not the decision of SBC.  He agreed that the announcement from Arrival about the new bus service reduces the scale of the problem for this area – but may not solve the whole problem.

J Kavanagh explained that the No. 6 service that currently serves Stillington and the other villages is only partially subsidised.  The route through the Villages is a commercial service.  He explained that other bus companies may be interested in operating in this area but we will not know about any intentions until 2nd February – 56 days before the subsidy stops on 31st March.

Cllr. B Cook explained that £54 million, 44% of the SBC budget, had to be cut between 2010 and 2016. To date £34 million has been saved but more needs to be done.

Cllr. Beal explained that the funding that SBC has left needs to be targeted to fund services for the most vulnerable people – children and the elderly – along with funding all of the statutory services that the Council has to provide.  He continued to say that the withdrawal of the subsidies is not just a problem for the rural areas; parts of Stockton are affected also.

Cllr. Stephenson asked for questions from the floor:-

Q.  Why is so much money being spent in Stockton town centre?  What happens to the money accrued from parking fees and fines – isn’t this ring fenced for use for transport?
A.  The money being used for work in the town centre is capital money that cannot be used to fund revenue projects such as supporting public transport. There is ring fenced money but this largely goes towards payments for concessionary fares – SBC has to find £4.5million to cover the costs of these every year.

Q.  SBC say they will fund provision for the elderly and children – these are the people who need the buses the most.  In Carlton people use the bus to access the services they need – eg healthcare.
A.  SBC Officers will work with communities to try and find solutions to any problems caused by withdrawal of any bus services.  For example the purchase of a minibus or extension of The SBC current Community Transport Service may be required – an example was given of how this has happened successfully in Thornaby.

Q.  Is the £400000 allocation for one year only?
A.  Yes – this fund is to kick start projects, after that a community will have to take on the management of the project themselves.

Q.  How many routes are currently subsidised by SBC?
A.  All subsidised routes were listed – about 17 in total.  Some are only partially subsidised.  It was reinforced that a service from Stillington will continue in some shape or form.

Q.  Has SBC got large reserves and, if so, what is this money for?
A.  SBC does have reserves.  They have to have a contingency budget in case of any major incidents.  They insure themselves so need reserves to meet any claims.  SBC runs a large fleet and vehicles are renewed using the reserve funds.  SBC needs to invest to save – eg current plans are to renewing street lighting throughout the Borough –this will cost £14 million but will save money over the long term

Cllr. Lupton added that he feels that SBC cannot allow communities to become isolated but he is currently happy with the way things are progressing – working towards community transport provision and talking to the bus operators.  Councillors will have to decide over the next few years how to allocate a reduced budget.

Q.  Have any other bus companies shown an interest in running a service from Stillington?
A.  If Arriva pulled out of this area then it is likely that another company will be interested in this route.  Bus companies decide where they want to run services, SBC has no influence over this.

Cllr. J Turner informed the panel of the concerns about access to health services.  If the route changes, access to North Tees Hospital will not be possible by public transport from Stillington or the other villages, also some people use public transport to access the surgery in Stillington.  There is concern that if these people find it easier to travel elsewhere the number of patients registered at Stillington will decline – this may put the surgery at risk.

Q.  Why do some areas seem to have more buses than they need and why? If a bus breaks down elsewhere, is the no. 6 service bus transferred to that route?
A.  These questions can only be answered properly by the bus companies.  Anyone is welcome to attend the next Public Transport Forum on 15th February to put questions of this nature to the managers of the bus companies.  SBC has some influence with the bus companies because of the amount of funding they provide for the concessionary fares but SBC does not have any legislative powers over the companies.

It was stated that at the public transport forum Arriva and the other companies listen to people’s concerns but do not do anything to rectify or improve matters.

Q.  Money has been spent on improving bus stops so that disabled people can get onto a bus – but in some cases wheelchairs cannot get to the bus stops.  What will be done about this? An example of this problem was given. 
A.  R McGukin agreed to look into the matter and ensure that the problem was rectified.

The Chair of the Public Transport Forum provided more details about the next meeting in February.

Q.  Cllr. Turner asked SBC could apply for funding to subsidise bus services – possibly from the fund that they secured £4.5million from to improve the railway stations?
A.  This finding was secured for capital projects – investment in physical infrastructure.  Revenue funding cannot be accessed through this fund.  If any sources of funding do become available then SBC will look to secure funds.

Q.  If another company is interested in providing a bus service can SBC choose which operator takes on the route?
A.  No – SBC does not run contracts for bus services.

Q.  Will the results of the questionnaires that people have completed be made public?
A.  Yes, once analysed results will be given to community representatives to pass on to people in their area.

Q.  How are young people supposed to travel to work?
A.  The withdrawal of the subsidies is not a decision that has been taken lightly.  The survey results should indicate when transport is required and will help to shape future transport initiatives that could alleviate some of the problems.

Q.  How will the £400000 be split between the communities that need it?  Will community initiatives work?  Dial a Ride is currently struggling with shortages of drivers and buses.
A.  The surveys will identify community need and once the results are available decisions can be made about how the funds are split.

Q.  Will all subsidised services be lost?
A.  Some are higher risk than others but currently we do not know what the bus operators are planning.

Q.  Can people pay for travel rather than receiving free concessionary travel?
A.  No – legislation is in place which prevents any payments from being made at all.

Cllr. Turner tabled a motion for SBC Councillors to take on board the needs of residents and reconsider decisions or find other funding to alleviate the threat of isolation from public services

Cllr. Stephenson and Cllr. Turner thanked everyone for coming and closed the meeting. 

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