COMMENT: Rural bus services review gives cause for concern

John Geddes.
John Geddes.

Derbyshire County Council (DCC) is about to reshape our rural communities. The council is consulting members of the public on what transport to fund in rural areas but, in my view, it is proposing to do it very badly.

Cuts in bus services should be a worry for almost everyone in a rural area. With a hospital visit by taxi often exceeding £50, rural living doesn’t make sense without a car or a decent bus service. To decide where you will be OK to live in future years, you need a long-term expectation of what public transport there will be.

DCC’s plan is to see how much transport it can get for a fixed amount of money - an amount which is much less than they spend at present. That may mean big cuts in some or all areas – and it will almost certainly mean that the level of service will continue to decline as ever-tighter budgets result in less money being allocated to transport in future years.

But dependable public transport is not a “nice to have” that can be adjusted to make the budget work. It is a statutory requirement for county councils to make sure that there is ‘appopriate’ transport available. Where the market doesn’t provide it, they are required to fund its provision. Legal rules insist that this is a core service that must be provided.

Adult care is also a statutory service. We don’t see DCC setting a cash sum for care and then working out that this means that some people will get a ten-minute visit every three days. Instead, there is a set provision that DCC has to procure – and the cost is one of the first claims on the council budget. Why is DCC sound on adult care but ready to try and duck out of their duty on public transport?

For any statutory service, planning has to start with a clear statement of the minimum provision that people should expect

A proper review of rural transport is a great idea. But this pragmatic DCC plan is not the way forward. We need the council to tell the rural population of Derbyshire what level of transport it considers ‘appropriate’ for now and the future.