Matthew Dalton On Cutting Bus Subsidies

bus07:20 Tuesday 2nd July 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: The amount of money used to subsidise bus services in Peterborough is being cut in half. It means that places like Maxey, Peakirk, and Etton could be left without a timetabled bus service. The City Council say they’ll invest in so-called demand responsive services instead. .. Joining me now to explain more about the changes in Peterborough is Cllr Matthew Dalton, the Cabinet Adviser to the Leader. Morning.
MATTHEW DALTON: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: So you’re going to save about half a million pounds here.
MATTHEW DALTON: That’s correct.
PAUL STAINTON: But didn’t you task a cross-party committee of councillors with coming up with some recommendations? They came up with something, you’ve ignored them, haven’t you?
MATTHEW DALTON: Well the cross-party committee was sent away as you know following the budget meeting in March to look at how what kind of envelope of services we could provide for these £600,000 that we’ve decided to invest for this specific year, this financial year. The budget initially as you say was in the region of £1.1 million. But when we went out to current providers, the figure that came back was £1.9 million. So although you say we’ve gone from £1.1 (million) to £600 (thousand), in reality that service requirement, financial requirement, was going to be much increased.
PAUL STAINTON: So you would have gone up ..
MATTHEW DALTON: That’s correct, to £1.9 million.
MATTHEW DALTON: That was the .. there were the .. broad tenders that were coming back. The cross-party working group came back with a figure of £780,000. And they didn’t see that they could come up with a proposal that was lower than £780,000.
PAUL STAINTON: In order to keep some sort of service going.
MATTHEW DALTON: To keep the service that they thought was necessary. That of course wasn’t unfortunately the requirement of the working group. And therefore the officers came up with some separate recommendations, which were voted on in Cabinet yesterday.
PAUL STAINTON: But why set this party of councillors up if you weren’t going to listen to what they had to say?
MATTHEW DALTON: Well the remit of the working group was to provide a range of services for £600,000. And they came back and said they wanted £780,000. Now I accept Paul this is a difficult decision. But the remit of the group was to come back with a range of services for £600,000. That was the envelope.
PAUL STAINTON: If they’re a cross-party group, they’ve got no political axe to grind, they’re saying, look, here you go, you can’t do it for that. Listen to us. You can do it for this, this is common sense. And you’ve gone, well, never mind that, we need to save this.
MATTHEW DALTON: I would love to spend another £180,000 on buses in this city. But the Full Council in March voted through as part of a huge range of other budget cuts, in some cases, and investments in others, an envelope of £600,000. I along with my other Cabinet colleagues, David Seaton leading it, cannot just adjust the budget willy-nilly at any time.
PAUL STAINTON: But it’s a waste of time, isn’t it? There’s no point setting the cross-party thing up, because a complete waste of time.
MATTHEW DALTON: It’s not a waste of time at all Paul. They had the opportunity.
PAUL STAINTON: But you not listen to them.
MATTHEW DALTON: they had the opportunity to come back with a set of proposals that was within a £600,000 envelope. And they said that they were unable to do that. And the reason they said they were unable to do that was they didn’t feel they could choose between evening services and weekend services. That was one of the reasons they didn’t feel, as a group of people, they didn’t feel they could make that decision. Now I’m afraid politics is about difficult decisions.
PAUL STAINTON: But you could have put a bit more in. You’re under budget at the moment, aren’t you?
MATTHEW DALTON: We’ve come in under budget for the last civic year.
PAUL STAINTON: You’ve got a bit saved. You could have put a bit in.
MATTHEW DALTON: It would be very very wrong for the people of this county to think we had cash spare Paul. We have anything but. In fact we have a £7 million hole for the coming civic year, which we need to meet. And that is a huge challenge. And you will have seen the Comprehensive Spending Review, the 10% more we’re looking to take out. We do not have cash spare.
PAUL STAINTON: You’re going to leave communities cut off here though, aren’t you? You’re going to leave them at the behest of buses that don’t come round very often, that they’re going to have to try and ring up and organise, this sort of dial-a-ride system.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well they’re not going to try and ring up Paul, they are going to ring up. And this kind of system that you explained, Core Connect, for example, which has been running in the rural area for some time, is working well. Yes, I would love ..
PAUL STAINTON: How does it work. Just explain. So I want to go into town from Maxey at two o’clock this afternoon. I ring up and say, can you pick me up, and they come, do they?
MATTHEW DALTON: The idea is that you need to ring up 24 hours before. So in the same way as you could book an appointment with a doctor or a dentist ..
PAUL STAINTON: Like a taxi, sort of thing.
MATTHEW DALTON: Yes, basically. But a taxi that you cannot immediately require within ten minutes. So you ring up 24 hours before. And the bus will come at the time, broadly at the time that you require. What it isn’t is a taxi, because if it was a taxi it would be called a taxi.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So I ring up today. I say I want picking up at two o’clock tomorrow afternoon. Will they come and pick me up? Or do they wait till they’ve got ten people to pick up in Maxey?
MATTHEW DALTON: What they will do is they will take .. the better thing to do is to require to be in the city by a certain time. So if you require to be in the city by let’s say, two o’clock, the bus company will then talk to you when they’ve brought together all of the different journeys for that day, and come back to you and say that you might need to get the bus at half past twelve. You may need to get the bus slightly earlier than you would require. But if it was a taxi, it would be a taxi.
PAUL STAINTON: No, no, I get what you’re saying. But what I’m trying to make the point here is will it come when I want it? Will it get me into town when I want it? Or will it take me round sixteen thousand different villages across Cambridgeshire before I get into Peterborough at five o’clock in the afternoon?
MATTHEW DALTON: As with everything Paul, but it will be a middle ground to what you described. It won’t take you round sixteen thousand villages, but what it won’t do necessarily is pick you up and drop you off thirty seconds before you need to. The important thing is that in morning and the evening peaks, that is where we know we’ve got to provide a very very good service, because people need to be in the city at eight thirty, nine o’clock to work, or for doctor’s appointments. And for those people, we are very conscious that we need to make sure we provide a very good service. However, if you normally start work at nine o’clock, you may need to get the bus slightly earlier than previously, to make sure you’re in the city.
PAUL STAINTON: And there are jobs at stake here, are there, bus drivers? Are they going to lose their jobs?
MATTHEW DALTON: Well the bus drivers don’t of course work for Peterborough City Council.
PAUL STAINTON: No but they’re still jobs.
MATTHEW DALTON: I presume that there are jobs at risk, but it’s not something I can comment on honestly.
PAUL STAINTON: Ok. And this is a given is it? This is going to happen.
MATTHEW DALTON: Well what is important is that once the officers have gone to the bus companies and started discussing the specifics of this proposal, they will come back to Cabinet to talk about exactly what the bus companies are going to provide. because what we’ve done here is we’ve set the budgetary envelope. We’ve set the broad concept of where we’re going. But of course what couldn’t have happened before now is that the officers couldn’t have got into very specific consultations with what the bus companies can provide on a very specific timetable basis. So once that happens, that will come back to Cabinet for final ratification.
PAUL STAINTON: Matthew, thank you very much.