Leaders support major increase in council funding for transport, to help mitigate the worst effects of upcoming commercial bus cuts
As Leaders of the councils in Tyne and Wear we have no choice but to boost local transport funding so that we can preserve the most important transport links for our communities, in the face of planned cuts to privately-operated bus services caused by a lack of government funding.
We anticipate that the region’s private bus operators will shortly announce major cuts to many local bus routes. This is a direct product of the government’s decision to withdraw its Covid-19 financial support for buses at the end of March, despite the ongoing effects of the pandemic on public transport use being obvious for all to see. As a result some communities face having their public transport links severely cut back, or removed altogether.
As Council Leaders we cannot allow this to happen. People in our communities need bus services to access jobs, schools and colleges, and essential services like healthcare. Buses also support our efforts to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions.
We need Nexus, on our behalf, to be able to maintain its expenditure on publicly-funded bus services in the worst affected areas, staving off the worst effects of commercial bus cuts by maintaining the most important transport links in places like the Outer West of Newcastle.
This process will begin shortly, with Nexus likely to issue tenders over the next few days to recast contracted services in parts of Tyne and Wear to maintain important links where it expects commercial routes to be withdrawn.
The government is also withdrawing its Covid-19 funding from the Tyne and Wear Metro system at the end of March. Through this budget proposal we have no choice but to step in and ensure that the Metro can continue to underpin our local economy whilst numbers are depressed by the impact of the pandemic. Whilst this is necessary it is also grossly unfair as other major urban areas that rely on commuter rail networks are not being left high and dry by the government. Once again the North East is being treated unequally compared to the rest of the country.
Therefore, we are recommending to our councils that they accept an unprecedented increase to the Tyne and Wear levy of 6.75%, or £4.125 million, for the financial year 2022/23, taking the total levy paid by Councils to £65.225 million. This will of course add extra pressure to our Council budgets at a time when we need it the least, given our need to provide extra support to the most vulnerable people in our communities.
The upcoming decimation of the bus network in Tyne and Wear is wholly within the government’s power to resolve. We call once more on the government to reverse its decision to end Covid-19 funding for buses and light rail, before the effects of the pandemic have passed.
We also call upon the private bus operators to reflect upon the profits their owning groups have made over recent years, even during the pandemic. We ask them to remember that we voluntarily chose to continue to pay local subsidies of approaching £40 million in order to keep services running throughout the pandemic. We now need the bus companies to reciprocate by maintaining services to our communities.
Regrettably, without the government’s help we cannot stop commercial bus companies cutting back their services. But by reluctantly increasing our level of local funding we can make sure that Nexus has sufficient resources to step in to maintain our communities’ most important transport links.