Examination of Witnesses (Questions 110-119)|
WEDNESDAY 8 MAY 2002
110. Gentlemen, can I thank you for being very
patient. May I ask you first to identify yourselves for the record.
(Mr Welch) Brian Welch, Head of Sustainable Transport,
Northamptonshire County Council.
(Mr Chorlton) Edward Chorlton, County Environment
Director and Deputy Chief Executive, Devon County Council.
(Mr Cross) Tony Cross, Head of Transport Services,
Lincolnshire County Council.
111. Thank you very much. Can I ask you if any
of you want to make a personal statement first, please.
(Mr Chorlton) If I could make, on behalf of the three
of us, just four quick points, if I may.
The first is to say we are all agreed that the
Rural Bus Subsidy Grant and Rural Bus Challenge have been a major,
positive issue in terms of progressing rural buses, probably the
biggest for 50 years in terms of actually making a difference.
In my own case in Devon, that has resulted in nearly 900,000 extra
(Mr Chorlton) 900,000. Parishes which only had a weekly
service now have a daily service have gone up from 46 per cent
to 70 per cent. Similarly on education and worktime links, they
have gone up from 40 per cent to 58 per cent of parishes, so a
major movement forward. Second point, however, is that we are
all concerned about inflation increases in tenders, which are
putting those successes under pressure. They are quite high, certainly
averaging in our case 30-40 per cent, and even as much as 100
per cent, and that is actually causing some reversal of the earlier
gains. The next point is in terms of the bus companies. We understand
why they concentrate on urban and inter-urban services, but they
do tend to concentrate on their existing passenger base, whereas
we are looking at new passengers, either car drivers or the socially
excluded, so we have a slightly different approach. The final
point really relates to the first point, and that is that we are
very clear that in terms of deep rural areas, there is no alternative
to subsidy and innovation. There is no possibility of more commercial
services in those sorts of areas.
113. That is helpful, Mr Chorlton. Perhaps I
could ask you particularly first. You have so many parishes where
you have less than a population of 1000. You are obviously not
going to be able to exist. What is your future of public transport
in a County like that?
(Mr Chorlton) We see our future as a mix: commercial
services, both express and local, contracted services or subsidised
services, similarly, and then a mix of issues such as flexi-buses,
fare cars are very important, community transportRing and
Ride, and so on. One of the critical issues, rather than talking
about bus services, is talking about public transport. A fare
car is public transport, and the particular issues for us is how
we can ensure that demand responsive services can operate as freely
as possible, rather than being constrained by various parts of
the 1985 Act, which was not written with that in mind.
114. To Mr Welch, please. Can you describe the
problems you have faced recently over service withdrawals?
(Mr Welch) Yes, certainly. The problems we have been
having are mainly in medium sized towns, in the towns where traditionally
there has been a commercial bus network, albeit during the daytime,
7 till 7. In those towns, and there are three in our County, we
have seen, in one town in particular, significant withdrawals
of five out of the seven services, which have, effectively, at
short notice and with great pressure on our revenue budgets, we
have had to secure very difficult services like housing estates
to industrial estates and services from some of the more remote
housing estates to the Town Centre. That has put great pressure
on our revenue budget, as I say, at short notice.
115. Yes. Could I press you a little further
on that, because according to our information, and I think you
just confirmed this, we are talking here about, for example, in
Corby, five out of seven of the commercial routes. How would you
define, from your point of view, commercial routes? Were they
subsidised in any way, shape or form, or were they purely commercial
(Mr Welch) Prior to October 2000 we were spending
about £25,000 per year in Corby supporting very few journeys,
not services as such, but journeys. The remaining services were,
by and large, commercial. Suddenly, with only four months' notice,
we were faced with having to find £175,000 to maintain those
services which were once commercial but proposed for withdrawal.
116. So are you suggesting to the Committee
that almost overnight, what had been a commercial service operating
became non commercial, and that the company, the operator, threatened,
and indeed did withdraw?
(Mr Welch) From the County Council's perspective,
117. Did they give any reasons for that?
(Mr Welch) The reasons were that the service was not
meeting the returns they are required to make.
118. Which company was it?
(Mr Welch) Stagecoach.
119. Stagecoach. Do you know the rate of return
they required on those services?
(Mr Welch) We have heard anecdotally anything between
10-15 per cent.