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Sunday, 21 September 2014

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Bus cuts will cause isolation in Cumbrian villages - claim

Cumbria's most rural communities are likely to face increasing isolation as a result of county council bus subsidies being phased out.

Lawrence Fisher photo
Lawrence Fisher

That was the view expressed by one long-serving councillor who spoke out after a national campaign group said Cumbria is likely to be among the counties hardest hit by dramatic reductions in local authority funding.

The Rural Services Network says that the cuts in Cumbria and elsewhere are likely to have a devastating effect on villages and hamlets.

Brampton county councillor Lawrence Fisher represents rural communities that include Askerton, Burtholme, Waterhead, Kingwater, Nether Denton and Upper Denton.

The county council’s decision to this year phase out its subsidies for 70 bus routes to save £1.3m a year was “disastrous”, he said.

“The bus route along Hadrian’s Wall is heavily used by locals and visitors.

“If that goes there will be areas which will have no buses at all. People are not going to want to live in rural areas. It’s okay if you live in the middle of Carlisle where there’s a bus every five minutes or you can walk to town.”

Mr Fisher said the subsidies were a vital tool in the council’s armoury to combat rural isolation, particularly for the elderly.

“But people in the city and in towns rely on the people in the countryside,” he added.

Local authorities plan to slice more than £20m from their spending on supported bus services this year – twice the reduction in 2013, according to campaigners.

The Local Government Association says that the authorities likely to be worst hit include Cumbria, Dorset, Essex, North Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire.

A Save Our Buses campaign is being backed by the Rural Services Network, a coalition of around 200 organisations working together to improve the delivery of rural services across England.

The group wants an urgent review into funding for bus services ahead of the Government’s budget on March 19.

Rural Services Network chairwoman Cecilia Motley said: “Buses play a vital role in rural communities – especially for local residents who do not have a car.

“We recognise the need for austerity measures but government cuts are in grave danger of going too far – leaving many rural local authorities with no choice but to reduce funding for bus services.”

Access to important services – and to employment and training opportunities – on which rural residents depend – could also be put in great jeopardy as routes are lost or curtailed, says the network.

Experts believe that some Cumbrian routes which almost break even may survive only if operators such as Stagecoach or Reays increase fares.

Cumbria County Council has agreed to soften the blow by withdrawing subsidies by investing £1m so that there is time for alternative arrangements to be put in place.

Last month Keith Little, the cabinet member for transport, said: “I’m sure all county councillors would love to be in a position to say ‘we won’t make the cuts and we’re saving your services’ – but we just can’t do that. When we’re losing one pound in every four from government, some non-statutory services are going to stop.”

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