MPs warn of threats to rural prospects by bus service cuts

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CUTS to rural bus services will further isolate vulnerable people in the countryside, MPs are warning

A Transport Select Committee review – started following the Government’s spending review last autumn – has found that cuts to rural, evening and weekend services are damaging the ability of many people, especially the elderly, young or disabled, to get jobs or improve their education.

The findings also suggest that access to vital services such as hospitals and shops will also be hit. The cross-party committee warns of even deeper cuts in bus services next year, as local authorities struggle with smaller budgets.

Countryside Alliance chief executive Alice Barnard said: “A lack of transport is the overriding cause of social exclusion in the countryside.

“There is a real danger that this could be exacerbated by the cuts to bus services contained within the spending review, which will add to the isolation already felt by the more vulnerable members of rural communities.”

Ms Barnard did said that savings could be made on under-used services, but warned any reductions should be carried out after consultation with local residents.

The committee calls for the concessionary travel scheme to be preserved so that the elderly and disabled can continue to enjoy free bus travel.

Publishing the report, committee chair Louise Ellman MP said: “The Government claims it wants to see better bus services with many more smartcard–enabled journeys.

“Yet, following the Government’s spending review, we have seen a significant number of bus services withdrawn around the country and there is every indication that fares are set to rise well above the rate of inflation in some areas.

“For the most part it is rural, evening and Sunday services that are most affected.”

The Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside called for services to be monitored and then reviewed during the next financial year.