Yesterday, I found a sign attached to a bus shelter on Churchill Way in Macclesfield calling for support for a campaign to convince Cheshire East Council to retain its financial support of the Monday to Saturday evening bus services between the town and nearby Bollington. The campaign seems to be co-ordinated by Bollington Town Council and has made the front page of the Macclesfield Express too.
That recites arguments about the town being cut off in the evenings and other places are facing the same fate in Cheshire East too. The 130 Macclesfield to Manchester (Parr’s Wood only at times) service was not mentioned in the article but its Monday to Saturday evening journeys are to lose support too and more places are affected by that decision as will the planned cuts to Sunday evening bus services on service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe.
Once upon a time, it was possible to talk of making more of an effort to encourage folk to use buses with there being so much of a sense of threat to the continued operation of services. However, that that hasn’t happened is now endangering their continued existence due to dependence on the public purse and maybe the livelihoods of those who need the services for getting to and from work. Some possibly could be operated on a commercial basis and that may happen yet though this is a scary way of finding out which services are or are not sustainable.
The other matter that gives me pause for thought is the way in which the consultation was carried out by the council. On a previous time, there were suggested cuts and the public were invited to respond. The latest review didn’t take that format but rather a survey of bus usage and a series of daytime roadshows, probably held when some who depend on the service whose withdrawal is proposed were at work.
A better way would have been to do that usage survey, held those roadshows when working folk could make them and to have feedback on any proposals. However, it seems that the next stop for the proposals will be a Cheshire East Council cabinet meeting on October 18th without any feedback from the public. The way it has been done looks like an attempt to railroad the cuts in order ensure that they get carried out.
Of course, there still is the matter of local democracy and local folk emailing the likes of Bill Livesley (one of Bollington’s Cheshire East Councillors) to register their opinions on what is planned. With the number of services likely to be affected, it looks as if a fair few councillors need contacting over the matter.
Also, the some of money that is involved is not that large at around £500,000 and the current budget stands at around £2.2m, again not a large amount given some of the sums that you hear in the media these days. However, the council is seeing cuts in its funding from central government so I suppose that savings have to be found somewhere. Also, I am left wondering if a moderate increase in council tax would not help with this though many in the borough probably do not fancy the idea of paying more tax and the council is controlled by the Conservatives.
Also, there is the issue of free travel for older residents and what that is costing. Apparently, Cheshire East’s population is set to get older so this problem will increase. In fact, some have gone with the idea of the pass entitling you to reduced fares throughout the day and not just prior to 09:30 as is the case at present. With older people being more likely to vote in elections, this is a knotty problem that is set to stay with us for a while yet.
All in all, the consultation was well and good but I reckon that it could have involved the public more. Having some public comment on the proposed cuts may make it a two stage process but it has to be better than hearing about cuts without much of an opportunity to provide feedback on them. Last year, there was even less involvement so what we have this year has been an improvement, though there is room for more. Our austere age is presenting some awkward choices for us but we need to be careful about the loss of bus services. Maybe we should make more use of them to avoid what is happening though the unsettling aspect of the whole business well may have the opposite effect, particularly when we need to encourage less car usage because of road congestion and other sensible reasons.