Thursday, 29 January 2015

proposals made at Shepton Mallet meeting

Proposed by Cllr Chris Inchley and Seconded by Cllr Garfield Kennedy
This council notes that Somerset County Council has conducted a consultation on bus subsidies that finished in the Christmas holiday period. 
This town council is deeply concerned by the County Council’s proposals to withdraw funding to our local bus services on Saturdays, adding to the already damaging cuts to Sunday and evening weekday services.
For many in our community and the surrounding villages, buses are lifelines for many – including vulnerable people, the young and old and those who either chose not to drive or cannot afford to own a vehicle.
This council finds it unacceptable for our town and our community not to have important arterial public transport links on Saturday.  This council notes that this town will suffer more from the proposed cuts to subsidies to ensure the provision of essential bus services due to our already poor public transport service provision, and the lack of many facilities in the town (including entertainment venues, year round public swimming pool and a limited retail offering).
Shepton Mallet has many villages surrounding the town, yet the town and the nearby villages have the worst provision of public transport services of all neighbouring Somerset settlements (including Wells, Frome, Glastonbury, Street, Yeovil, Midsomer Norton etc).  Regular and reliable public transport links should be seen as an investment for economic renewal for our town centre and for the wellbeing of those living, working and visiting here.  Removal of services will have a negative effect on business. Surveys conducted by the national “Better Transport” group has shown that every pound spent on the support of vital bus links will pay back between £3 - £5 in economic benefit to communities.
“Shepton Mallet Town Council calls upon Somerset County Council to provide sufficient funding from the money already given to them by central government for community transport links, and from the County’s substantial reserves, to allow residents that need reliable bus services to other towns and the City of Wells for work, leisure or to access essential public services.  With a population of nearly 10,500, Shepton citizens do not deserve to be cut off all weekend.  We ask that public transport services should be based on a timetable to meet the needs of a growing town, including the reinstatement of evening weekday services.
Shepton Mallet Town Council further calls on Somerset County Council to conduct a new more widely publicized consultation, and to request that the County commission an independent economic impact study on the wider effects of losing or curtailing our Saturday bus services.
Shepton Mallet Town Council also formally invites Somerset County Council councillors and officers, bus operators, a representative of the “Better Transport” campaign group, local MPs and prospective Parliamentary candidates, District and Town Councillors and the community to a widely advertised public meeting to establish a bus timetable that meets the needs of our community now and into the future.”

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Minutes for meeting on 14th January

At this meeting we were joined by all five Prospective Parliamentary Candidates for the Somerton and Frome constituency, councillors Garfield Kennedy and Chris Inchley from Shepton Mallet who are involved in the campaign to save the Saturday services from Somerset County Council's subsidy cuts, Peter Travis of the Rode 267 campaign, and Victoria Flynn, representing Tessa Munt, MP for Wells. 


Each of the PPCs gave their thoughts on the local situation for bus services, and buses as a public service:

David Warbuton (Conservative)

David has spoken to James Freeman, the Managing Director of First Bus, who has said that the 267 (Frome-Bath) is not currently profitable. First will be reviewing the route, and attempting to boost usage. He says they would like to consult properly with users next time, following the protests which followed their last cuts to the 267 route. The Rode leg of the route is not currently under threat. The withdrawal of Somerset County Council funding to the 161, however, will mean that that Saturday service will be cut. David has also spoken to John Osman at the council, and discussed the possibility of DRS (Demand Response Services) providing an alternative to those services which will disappear. 

John Freeman is currently recruiting to replaces Jon Barnard, who was formerly managing routes in this region. He would be willing to come to FAVBUG meetings, and is interested in community feedback. John has also indicated that there will be communication between First Bus and First Great Western with the goal of greater integration between bus and rail services. 

David Rendell (Liberal Democrat)

David congratulated the group on its proactive approach, and commented that monitoring bus usage was particularly useful. He said we need to prove to bus companies that services are capable of being profitable. The response to the council's consultation which we took steps to bring to the public's attention also sounds promising. 

David Oakensen (Labour)

David argued that the problem with local bus services is the lack of money being made available to councils - a 40% reduction in local authority funding since the Coalition government took power at the start of this Parliament. Also, the Conservative-led Somerset County Council will not increase council tax to increase revenues - this has a proportionally greater benefit for richer people. The result of such cuts across all services is that groups such as ourselves fighting for public services and representing vulnerable people are in effect fighting each other for a dwindling pot of money - if any of us succeed in saving a service it means that another service elsewhere will be cut. 

Theo Simon (Green Party)

Theo applauded FAVBUG working with campaigners from Rode and Shepton Mallet - it is a great example of the importance of communities being linked up, links which are threatened by the isolating cuts to public transport. Theo argued that it is unacceptable that bus users should need to 'prove our case', as a comprehensive and sustainable public transport system ought to be a central part of government policy. One of the reasons why it is not seen as important by the current government is that it is not regarded as a vote-winner - the loss of public transport primarily affects more vulnerable people, and their votes are not seen as key in winning elections. The Green Party would re-regulate bus services to create a functioning public service, consulting with communities and transport workers to design a system that works. This is not an infeasible dream - high quality, sustainably powered transport systems exist in other countries (e.g. Denmark) - the reason we have such a terrible system in comparison is down to the lack of political will among the parties who have held government. 

Roger Clark (UKIP)

Roger argued that, while UKIP weren't opposed to all subsidies, public trasport provision must be run as a business, and therefore if people want to have a bus service they must use it in sufficient numbers to make it profitable. If there's a bus service that we want and that isn't available from any of the bus companies, we should fund it ourselves. 'Capitalism is harsh' and we should 'use it or lose it', rather than just complaining about cuts. He warned us to expect further cuts and tax rises whoever takes power in the next election. 


Somerset County Council intend to cut subsidies to many services in the region, including all Saturday services passing through Shepton Mallet. This includes the 161 Frome-Wells service.

Garfield Kennedy made the point that cuts to public transport are short-sighted and are not real savings, as they have a detrimental effect on local economies. It has been estimated that every pound spent on public transport recoups four or five pounds for the economy. We discussed the knock-on effects that the cuts will have - preventing people from being able to take jobs in neighbouring towns, impacting the business of local shops, and increasing isolation and associated health problems. Bus services in Somerset are already poor and infrequent - we should be strengthening the services we have, not weakening them by cutting them further. Services may not be well used, not because they are not wanted, but because they have already been run down by cuts, becoming too infrequent or unreliable to be usable by many people. 

Chris Inchley criticised the way that the council's consultation was conducted, over a short period over Christmas, and poorly publicised. The consultation garnered around 1300 responses - and wouldn't have had that many if groups like ouselves hadn't publicised it.

Victoria Flynn, representing Tessa Munt, Lib Dem MP for Wells, read out a prepared statement on the cuts to services. This stated that she had been inundated with complaints about many type of cuts made by Somerset County Council. These cuts were typically short-sighted and ended up costing rather than saving - for example, library closures which resulted in a high court battle. Typically short-sighted are bus service cuts to Saturday services, stranding people at the weekends, when people naturally want to travel out of their towns into the surrounding area (there is already no Sunday service). Tessa Munt argues that central government should not be blamed for these cuts - there is a fund which has been made over to SCC to cover transport but which has not been used for that purpose by the council. Furthermore, SCC cannot plead poverty as they are keeping £30m in reserve in the bank - at 10% of their yearly budget, this exceeds the 3-5% recommended by the National Audit Office. Therefore SCC appear to making these cuts for political reasons, not because they are short of funds. 

Derek Tanswell, Lib Dem councillor, said that he believes that regardless of the responses to the consultation, SCC will be cutting the subsidies as originally proposed. 

Peter Travis suggested that if the council wanted to increase bus usage, one strategy would be to increase the cost of parking. 


Garfield is hoping to organise a meeting in Shepton Mallet. He spoke about working with Martin Abrams of Better Transport. Garfield has a background in film-making and we could think about making a film of the campaign. 

Theo suggested making the most of press, events and photo opportunities to increase the visibility of the campaign. 

You can find the Shepton Mallet campaign online at 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

News article about bus cuts

Budget cuts by councils have left bus services facing a crisis, a report by the Campaign for Better Transport says.
The group says half the councils in England and Wales have cut funding for buses in 2014/15, amounting to more than £9m when compared with 2013/14.
The CBT said its figures came from Freedom of Information Act requests.
A Department for Transport spokesman said decisions about buses were best made locally but the government provided "substantial funding".
The CBT said local authority funding for bus services had been slashed by 15% since 2010, or £44m, with more than 2,000 routes being reduced or withdrawn entirely.
Its report also says that:
  • Rural areas have been worst hit by cuts, seeing average budget reductions of 19% this year
  • In 2014/15, nearly 500 bus services were cut, altered or withdrawn
  • 22 councils cut bus funding by more than 10% in 2014/15
  • The overall reduction in Wales in 2014/15 is more than £900,000, with 86 bus services having been cut, altered or withdrawn
CBT public transport campaigner Martin Abrams said the government needed to "wake up to the crisis facing buses".
 "Across the country, bus services are being lost at an alarming rate.
"Year-on-year cuts to budgets mean entire networks have now disappeared, leaving many communities with little public transport and in some cases none at all.
"It's very worrying that further steep cuts in budgets are threatened next year and beyond. The government must introduce new initiatives which recognise the vital social, economic and environmental role buses play."
'Poisonous cocktail' Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union, said: "This shocking new report lifts the lid on the trail of misery left strewn across the country as multimillion-pound cuts to bus services condemn hundreds of thousands of people to lives of isolation and imprisonment in their own homes.
"The poisonous cocktail of cuts and privatisation reinforces our call for bus services to be taken back into public ownership with the resources required to run as a comprehensive public service."
The DfT spokesman said that it regarded bus services as "vital", especially for many older and disabled people.
"That is why the government provides substantial funding, protected until 2015/16, to bus operators to help more services run and keep ticket prices down.
"A further £1bn a year is provided for the free national bus pass.
"Decisions about bus services are best made locally in partnership between councils and the companies which run the buses."