A COUNCIL has been advised to cut a swathe of bus subsidies despite the move being unnecessary to achieve its savings target.
North Yorkshire County Council officers have recommended councillors approve £2m-a-year savings, which will lead to less frequent bus services, subsidised services across towns being withdrawn and reductions to school transport services.
The authority had initially aimed to reduce spending on buses by £1.1m as part of a drive to cut its budget by £92m by March 2015.
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The proposals have sparked widespread controversy with claims that the move, affecting about 150 bus services, would lead to increasing isolation for the elderly, who make up 70 per cent of the area's bus users, and would hit local economies.
In a report to the authority’s executive on Tuesday (January 21), officers said a public consultation exercise had attracted 2,138 questionnaire responses, 221 letters and 15 petitions, featuring 5,880 signatures.
The report stated: “A key feature of the consultation related to the potential isolation of communities.
“We have further analysed our proposals and are confident that because we will retain extensive geographical coverage, albeit with fewer journeys on which people can travel, we have addressed this concern.”
Officers said the proposals put forward identified a potential reduction of £1.7m, and after discussions with contractors and, in some cases, the re-procurement of services, the total amount of savings was now estimated at £2m-a-year.
The report said: “The executive could decide to meet the original target of £1.1m by withdrawing town services and introducing appropriate mitigation, which in most cases means they would be retained on a commercial basis.
“This would mean the council would achieve the required saving and retain much of its supported network.
“The importance of bus services to local communities is fully recognised. The consultation responses clearly demonstrate that.
“However, this has to be measured against other services the council provides which are also highly valued by users.”
Shelagh Marshall, chairman of the Yorkshire and Humber Older People’s Forum, said she was saddened that there was no proposal to retain at some of the services, which were a lifeline to elderly people and the economies of isolated villages.
She said: “It is a shame if they don’t use the opportunity to look again at the services they are proposing to cut.
“It is essential we keep as many services as possible because in North Yorkshire we have a high proportion of elderly people.”
The council's deputy leader, Councillor Carl Les, said he did not want to comment ahead of the executive debate.