CUMBRIA County Council have hit back after being accused of losing out on crucial budget funding earmarked for buses

Cumbria County Council have pointed the finger at the government for ‘pulling the rug’ out from the bus companies too prematurely.

The Government pays local authorities to run the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme, meaning that every time a pensioner or other concession travels free in Cumbria, the county council covers the payment to the bus company.

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An FOI request response has showed that in 2019-20, before Covid, the council paid £8.7m in reimbursements to bus companies and the following year it paid only £3.8m and the year after £5.2m.

Carlisle MP John Stevenson and Workington MP Mark Jenkinson have criticised the county council for not doing more.

Mr Stevenson said: "It is self-evident that that Cumbria County Council are not supporting the bus services that we would like to see.”

Councillor Stewart Young, Leader of Cumbria County Council said: “Two years ago, the Prime Minister launched the Bus Back Better Strategy, announcing he was going to put £7bn back into improving bus services throughout England – which everyone obviously welcomed.

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“It turns out all the money given to bus companies during Covid came from that pot of money that was meant for councils.

“In order for us to access that money we had to draw up a bus improvement plan in collaboration with the bus operators, and when the announcement of the bids came, we were astonished that we bid for £64m and we got zero in return.

“We know and understand that the money meant for councils had gone to private bus companies – of which I agreed with, just not taking money away from the council part.

“And now they’ve got the cheek to come to the councils and ask for them to subsidise them,” he said.

Cllr Young said that whilst he ‘sympathises’ with the bus companies, the question to be asked is why the government aren’t giving the funding directly to the bus companies themselves.

“What they’re asking us to do is pay the bus companies as though Covid 19 never happened and passenger numbers were unaffected.

“Okay we’ve made a saving on that budget line, but we’ve had a lot of other budget lines with extreme pressures, and when you do a budget, you don’t look at one element, you look at the whole thing.

“It’s not like a ring-fenced amount; we can’t just give taxpayers money to the likes of Stagecoach that are a private company. As a council taxpayer, I’d be up in arms with that as I’m sure many would,” he said.

Commenting on the figures, Rob Jones, managing director Stagecoach Cumbria, said: 

"Communities across the region rely on bus services to get to work, access education, health shopping and leisure, and stay connected with friends and family. In that context, it is absolutely critical that funding which the Government intends to support these services goes towards its intended purpose. 

"As we look to emerge from the pandemic, every penny of this funding is important in ensuring we have a sustainable bus network for the long-term."

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