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Cabinet asked to support county bus services

Published January 09, 2024 3.47pm

We are proposing to continue our financial support for local bus services and their passengers, with an initial redirecting of up to £2.65 million underspend from our concessionary fares budget.

We began in 2022/23 to use underspend from the concessionary fares budget to support local bus services where needed, an approach we have maintained this financial year.

Our Cabinet will next week be asked to agree continuing the approach next financial year and beyond, and to putting up to £2.65m underspend towards continued support for local bus services should it be needed in 2024/25.

Cllr Elizabeth Scott, our Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: "We know how important buses are to people - they can be a lifeline for those without cars, helping them get to work, health appointments and leisure activities.

Supporting services our residents rely on

"That is why we have in recent times chosen to use underspend from our concessionary fares budget to support services which have ceased to be viable yet which some of our residents rely on.

"We recognise viability of services remains a challenge and we are therefore looking to reaffirm our commitment to supporting bus routes, next financial year and potentially beyond.

"We're pleased to be proposing to set aside up to £2.65m in 2024/25 alone, and will ensure this is put towards providing vital bus services should it be needed."

Like all other local authorities across the country, we are required to reimburse local bus service providers to cover money they lose when people make journeys using a concessionary pass. This is through the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS.)

Compared to before March 2019, bus usage has fallen across the country, including in County Durham, with the amount of journeys at concessionary rates also falling.

Continuing existing support

The reduced use, combined with increasing operating costs, has made some routes no longer viable.

With this in mind, we have previously agreed to use underspend from our ENCTS budget to support such bus routes where needed, both in 2022/23 and this financial year.

The underspend - which is the direct result of the reduction in concessionary journeys - has paid for additional contracts to maintain some of the services that had ceased to be viable.

The Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 17 January will be recommended to continue this approach where needed, both in 2024/25 and beyond if necessary.

Members will be asked to support putting the forecasted underspend from the ENCTS budget for the next financial year, up to £2.65m, to this use to continue to support bus services.