Upper Eden correspondent Adrian Waite comments: On the Buses!!
By Adrian Waite
We are all aware of the importance of bus services to rural communities including those in the Eden Valley. The news that Labour/LibDem coalition run Cumbria County Council has been awarded £380,000 under the government's scheme for funding Supported Bus Services during 2020/21 is therefore to be welcomed; as is the proposal by the County Council to use part of the money to support new bus services between Appleby and Kirkby Stephen and to connect Kirkby Stephen town centre with the railway station and surrounding villages. We should be grateful to officers in the County Council's transport service for their work in securing this funding.
However, the government is not as generous as first appears. In October 2019, the Campaign for Better Transport reported that local authority bus funding in England has been reduced by £400million (40%) since 2010 causing the loss or reduction of over 3,000 bus services across England including many in the Eden Valley. This is because central government has reduced local government funding by about 50% over the same period. The government's Supported Bus Services scheme for 2020/21 provides only £30million across the whole of England so it does little to undo the damage that has already been done across the country.
Cumbria's share of that £30million is £380,000, slightly less than 80p for each person in Cumbria. While this is welcome it is not enough to provide the bus services that Cumbria or the Eden Valley needs.
When the Coronavirus crisis is over there will be a need to re-start the economy. In the Eden Valley improved bus services will be an important part of this. There may be a need to provide funding to retain or restore services let alone improve them. The challenge of global warming will still need to be addressed and that also requires improved public transport. We need a more ambitious strategy for bus services especially in rural areas.
The Local Government Association (LGA) that represents all local authorities in England has recommended that funding for concessionary fares should be reinstated to 2010/11 levels to stop the pressure on council funding of supported bus services; and that the Bus Services Operators Grant that currently goes to bus operators should be devolved to local authorities so it can be targeted at supporting unviable but socially useful services.
If the Eden Valley is to keep existing bus services, let alone receive the bus services that it needs, I think the government will have to come up with more than £380,000 for supported bus services and should also implement the recommendations of the LGA.