RE: Subsidised buses and Dial-a-Ride – Cabinet Decision
I am writing to tell you about a decision made by Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet that will have an impact on subsidised bus and Dial-A-Ride services in Oxfordshire. The council’s decision making cabinet met on 10th November 2015 to consider public feedback to the subsidised bus service and Dial-a-Ride service proposals that we put forward in a consultation held between 19th June and 15th September this year, and to then make a decision about how to make the savings we need to from these services.
At this meeting Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet took the decision that the Council withdraw all subsidies paid to run 118 subsidised bus routes in Oxfordshire. This decision is subject to approval at the council’s overall budget setting meeting in early 2016.
A further decision was also taken by the cabinet that if the County Council’s funding position contained the necessary surplus, this surplus would, where possible, be used to subsidise bus services that prioritise off-peak services. In addition rural services would be prioritised and special exemptions made for deprived areas and school routes. This final decision would be taken at the full budget setting meeting, attended by all Oxfordshire’s Councillors, in February 2016.
The attached document ‘Cabinet Meeting Subsidised Bus Decision’ contains a list of all bus routes potentially affected by these changes and the approximate date that a specific subsidy would be withdrawn under these 2 alternate budget scenarios. Under the worst case scenario of all subsidies being withdrawn a total of nine per cent of the bus network in Oxfordshire would be effected, meaning that more than 90% of bus services in Oxfordshire will not be affected by this cabinet decision.
A further decision was taken to cease funding the Dial a Ride service as of April 2016. The Council propose to work with community transport groups across the county to try and develop schemes which can meet similar needs to those which Dial-a-Ride currently serves.
And finally a decision was also taken not to allocate resources to a specific community transport fund at this time, but instead, that once the council’s future funding position is clearer, full council would establish a broader fund available for all sectors, including the community transport sector, along with other similar initiatives. The council is in the process of collating local transport solutions that were put forward as part of the consultation process for further analysis and potential support. We encourage groups and individuals to continue to come forward to the Council directly with ideas that would address local transport needs.
Withdrawal of a subsidy does not necessarily mean cancellation of the bus route
The withdrawal of an Oxfordshire County Council bus subsidy does not necessarily mean that the service would be cancelled (or the subsidised portion of the service). Removing a subsidy does not guarantee that the service itself will cease. If the service is well-used to a profitable level, the operator may decide to continue running it without any Oxfordshire County Council subsidy (or another operator step in and take it on). It would be up to the operator to review the service and decide whether they wish to continue operating it, or modify it to try and make it profitable (for example by re-routing or modifying the timetable). Oxfordshire County Council is in discussions with operators and will encourage them to try to maintain or commercialise services wherever possible if a subsidy is withdrawn.
Supported transport savings
As part of the council's budget setting process in February 2015, councillors reduced the overall supported transport budget by a fifth (£6.3 million). As far as possible, we are trying to make these savings in supported transport by running services more efficiently. We have identified that we can achieve £3.7 million in savings by bringing together all the supported transport services we operate and fund. However, this is not enough. The council needs to find a minimum of £2.6 million in additional savings and this means looking at supported transport services which the council is not required to provide by law. This will inevitably impact some people in the county.
Why is the council making savings?
On-going cuts in central government funding mean Oxfordshire County Council has to make savings. The council is currently in the process of making approximately £290 million of savings. Those savings began in 2010 and run until 2018. On top of those savings, the council currently believes it may need to save a further £50 million.
Between June 19th and September 15th we ran a public consultation on proposals to change subsidised buses and the Dial-a-Ride service in Oxfordshire. In total, 2656 responses to the consultation questionnaire were received, as well as numerous emails and letters, 13 detailed submissions and 7 petitions. 275 people attended public and specific stakeholder meetings about the proposals we put forward. The level of interest in the consultation demonstrates how highly the public values these supported transport services, with many regarding them as an important part of their local community infrastructure, and finding it difficult to prioritise between different types of services. While people were understandably concerned about reducing these services, there was also an appreciation of the exceptionally hard financial situation the Council finds itself in, and the difficult decisions this requires us to make.
The council is committed to engaging with commercial bus companies to see if they can take on any of the effected services on a commercial basis. We also recognise that Oxfordshire’s 62 community transport schemes may take an increasingly important role in transporting those in the local communities with the greatest need. We therefore plan to focus support on this sector in the coming months and years. We are also committed to delivering a marketing and direct engagement campaign in the coming months to raise awareness and to support the growth of community transport in Oxfordshire, to increase the number of volunteers and new schemes within the sector.
Thank you for taking the time to read this message and please don’t hesitate to contact my team at supported.transport@Oxfordshire.gov.uk if you have any further queries about changes to these services.
Cllr David Nimmo Smith