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Suffolk County Council approves new framework to review financial viability of bus services

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Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (11402422)
Suffolk County Council's headquarters at Endeavour House, Ipswich (11402422)

A new framework has been approved to allow a council to review whether its sponsored bus services are viable.

Currently, Suffolk County Council has no methodology in place to assess whether the bus routes it subsidises are cost-effective, prompting the formation of a cross-party task group.

The proposals, which were approved by the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, will now score each service based on six criteria, including:

  • Average single passenger journeys per day
  • Percentage using a concessions bus pass
  • Number of entitled students using the route
  • The type of service and available alternatives
  • Links to commercial services in the area
  • Average cost per passenger to the county.

Mary Evans, Conservative cabinet member for highways, said: “The council spends money on supporting a range of bus services that are not commercially viable, so it is important that we have a consistent method for evaluating these to ensure that decisions are made in a robust and transparent way.

“Up until now, the criteria was based on the amount of subsidy per passenger and local knowledge.

“We realised we needed a much more thorough way of assessing the criteria for funding services.

“The methodology will enable us to score each subsidised route against specific criteria, which will ensure that we make informed decisions around increased or decreased levels of financial support.”

“This year, the budget available to deliver subsidised services is being reduced, so we will use the methodology as part of any review.”

The authority currently spends around £1.7 million subsidising 44 bus routes, but budget figures for this year confirm that will reduce by £340,000.

It has raised fresh questions as to whether cuts could be on the way, although it is understood some services may be in a position to be run entirely by commercial operators.

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said: “We are supportive of the proposals which came out of the cross party PDP and believe they are a pragmatic step forward.

“However, I’ll be really clear that we will strongly oppose any move to reduce spending on local bus services, which are a lifeline for so many people in our county.

“We have already seen relentless cuts to bus subsidies – 60 per cent in just 10 years – with rural communities paying the price of increased costs and fewer routes.”