[P]AUL STAINTON: We’ll start at the Park and Ride, on the day that councillors in Cambridgeshire discuss proposals to bring in the £1 parking charge. We’re asking, what should we do with the Park and Ride sites? Should it be sold to a private company? The County Council says it costs them over £1 million a year to run the sites, and they need to save money because of spending cuts. BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has been told by workers at the Council that staff are worried about losing their jobs. Currently eight people work at the site. Two years ago there were fifteen. The waiting areas and help desks are often closed. Well earlier in the show, opposition LibDem councillor Susan van de Ven said the Council had rushed their decision making process.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: The charging policy is a knee-jerk reaction and the short term solution to something. The Council has continually told us that congestion builds up. That has a huge cost to business, and we need to keep people moving, and Park and Ride figures as the lynch-pin in a multi-modal transport way of getting around.
PAUL STAINTON: Cllr van de Ven went on to say that officials need to look at other ways of raising money.
SUSAN VAN DE VEN: Rural South Cambridgeshire is going to be affected greatly by a parking charge, and many of these people don’t have basic services in their villages, such as post offices and shops. And we know that there’s a large elderly population that depend on getting around by bus. So why not introduce some of those village services to Park and Ride.
PAUL STAINTON: So should the Council sell the sites, privatise them, make some cash and leave it to a private company to run them? Well I’m joined in the studio by Cllr Mac McGuire, who’s the Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Infrastructure. Morning.
MAC MCGUIRE: Morning Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: And Andy Campbell’s with us as well, the Managing Director of Stagecoach, who currently run the bus services from the five Park and Ride sites. So Andy, can you do a better job at running these sites, do you think?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Yes I think we could. I think we could do it more cost effectively. Last time I looked at the manpower costs, it was just below half a million. Like you said there, five sites, seven days a week, seven staff, one to cover holidays, eight staff. Even if you’re paying thirty thousand pounds a year to those staff, that’s a quarter of a million. So you’ve saved a quarter of a million straight away.
PAUL STAINTON: So you’d sack them.
ANDY CAMPBELL: No I wouldn’t sack them. I’d keep them. I’d keep them. I’d get them selling tickets. I’d get them promoting our business.
PAUL STAINTON: You’ve still got to pay them.
ANDY CAMPBELL: Yes but I wouldn’t be paying half a million quid. What I’m saying is if you pay eight people thirty thousand pounds a year, that’s a quarter of a million.
PAUL STAINTON: Is that what they’re earning Mac?
MAC MCGUIRE: Well that’s not the only factor that Andy has to take into account. We’ve had discussions with Andy and Stagecoach over a number of years, as Andy knows. Only a couple of years ago we had what’s called an Industry Day. We invited potential operators, people interested in taking over the Park and Ride sites, to come and have a chat with us. And without going into any of the what would be commercially confidential, my recollection is that the County Council would still have had to pick up much of the overheads, the maintenance costs of the Park and Ride sites and this sort of thing. So we would probably still be looking at a deficit of around half a million pounds a year. So, whatever. But we’re always happy to talk to any potential operator who can run it more efficiently at no cost to the Council taxpayer.
PAUL STAINTON: Can you run it at no cost to the taxpayer?
ANDY CAMPBELL: We’ve made that offer. We’ve given the costs. And we said I think it’s two years ago now, if they give us three years to get down to a zero amount, we could do that. If they’d have taken that offer then, we’d now be down to zero.
PAUL STAINTON: Should have bitten his hand off Mac. You missed a trick.
MAC MCGUIRE: Well, I wasn’t particularly party to that particular discussion. But if it was as nice as Andy says it was going to be, then I’m sure we would have bitten his hand off. So I would suggest that there are a lot more factors to this, and clearly since we know the value of Park and Ride, we know that. And if it could be run at no cost to the Council taxpayer, and without any massive increase in bus fares that might discourage people from using it, then I’m sure we would still be interested in talking about it.
PAUL STAINTON: How would you make money, if you took it over tomorrow?
ANDY CAMPBELL: How would I make money?
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. The Council are losing a million pounds a year. How are you going to make money?
ANDY CAMPBELL: Well I currently pay a departure charge anyway. So I pay towards the upkeep of that. I would manage the staff more effectively. And I would encourage the staff to assist customers. Because what’s happening at the moment is the site’s are being left closed. If you take the Saturday before last, three out of five sites were closed. That’s not encouraging people to use it.
PAUL STAINTON: So they’re being mismanaged at the moment in your opinion.
ANDY CAMPBELL: I believe they are. Yes.
MAC MCGUIRE: I would challenge Andy as to the fact of these sites are closed. He’s inferring they’re not operating at all. They may be closed at certain times. They’re not closed all the time. And clearly we do have a major deficit. And I have to remind your listeners that when we say the County Council is picking up this million pound deficit, it is actually the Council taxpayers across the County who are picking up this deficit, and at a time when we are strapped for cash, it is not easy to be able to run everything as effectively as people would like it to be run, open all hours. We do have to make savings. We do have to try and make the best use of the manpower we’ve got. But as I say, we’re always interested and listen, and the very fact that Andy’s come out with some of these suggestions, I as the portfolio holder will certainly instigate further discussions with Stagecoach, see if (UNCLEAR). But what I have to say on the evidence I’ve heard so far, is that apart from us wanting to remove the deficit, the problem we would be facing is the cost to the bus user is going to increase, and I cannot honestly believe that any commercial operator is going to allow other people who don’t use the buses to park freely at Park and Ride sites that they operate.
PAUL STAINTON: Would you?
ANDY CAMPBELL: I fully agree with charging people who park at the sites and don’t use the bus. I think they should be charged, and contribute towards that site. The biggest problem is Addenbrookes, because people park at Babraham and then walk to Addenbrookes. But there must be a way of talking to Addenbrookes and doing some sort of staff passes, or arranging a system on that particular site. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater to find a solution.
PAUL STAINTON: Mac it seems to me that this guy’s got loads of ideas. Why have you not been banging on his door? Why have the Council not been having these discussions, and saving the taxpayer some money already?
MAC MCGUIRE: But this is the point I’ve been trying to make. We have regular meetings with Andy and Stagecoach, and Andy knows that. And as I say it’s only two years ago, when I was last involved as the portfolio holder, we had an Industry Day when we invited them. I don’t remember the solutions being offered by Andy as being the ones that were outlined at that time. But ..
PAUL STAINTON: Well let me see if I can get in here. Let me climb in.
MAC MCGUIRE: But we continue to converse ..
PAUL STAINTON: Let me climb in here. Andy, what’s the deal on .. what’s the deal here? What can you offer the Council? What are you offering?
ANDY CAMPBELL: What we’re offering is that we would run the Park and Ride sites at no cost to the Council.
PAUL STAINTON: How much would the bus fare be?
ANDY CAMPBELL: The bus fare is currently £2.60 if you buy it before you board, and £2.80 if you buy it on board. We’d probably settle next year at £2.80. We’d look at taking out cash on the ticket machines, because we’d have co-ordinators on sites selling tickets. It reduces your costs, because you’re not having to pay for the ticket machines to be emptied. We’d look at all different ways. And what I’m saying is ..
PAUL STAINTON: Parking. You’d charge everybody to park?
ANDY CAMPBELL: We wouldn’t charge anybody to park, except we’d look at Barbraham Road, and we’d look at those that park and don’t use the bus.
MAC MCGUIRE: If you let me ask, just to check something with Andy. Andy’s saying that from the moment we .. if such a contract was to be agreed, then from that day there would be no cost whatsoever to the County Council. In other words you take on all the overheads, all the maintenance charges as well, within that deal.
ANDY CAMPBELL: The structure that we looked at, and the figures we were given, that included all that, and it also included the business rates.
PAUL STAINTON: Bite his hand off Mac, now. Do it now. Sign it here.
MAC MCGUIRE: I don’t have that power. But I’m certainly interested in ensuring that we continue to talk to Andy, and find out if this is a way forward which actually benefits not only the Council taxpayer, but every bus user, and everybody who uses our Park and Ride sites.
PAUL STAINTON: Guys, I’m glad we could bring you together this morning, and hopefully get you closer to sorting out this problem for everybody.
MAC MCGUIRE: We do come together quite a lot. We do.
PAUL STAINTON: Well you’ve certainly come together this morning. Mac, thank you for coming on the show. And Andy, appreciate your candour as well, and answering all our questions. Andy Campbell, managing director of Stagecoach, with that offer, right there, bang. And Cllr Mac McGuire, Deputy Leader of the County Council, and Cabinet Member for Highways and Community Infrastructure. Is that the way to go then? Stagecoach can run it. They can make some money. They’re also going to charge people that break Babraham site to park their cars. Nobody else will be charged. And the bus fare, well, it will go up slightly. But it sounds like a win-win deal, doesn’t it?