Cuts, cuts and more cuts : West Oxon Greens Blog
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Cuts, cuts and more cuts

by WestOxon Greens Editor on 11/11/13

Yet another set of cuts is now planned to our beleaguered local services, just days after consultations were announced on reducing provisions to children, cuts to subsidised school buses and, well, basically about anything else you can think of that serves a public purpose.

This time the council is proposing reviewing the timetables (for this read cutting frequency) of a number of bus services in and around Witney, but also other rural areas of the County.  I can’t comment on services in other neighbourhoods, but our 18 and 19 routes are for many people a lifeline.  For the elderly, unemployed, disabled and youths living in Aston, Bampton and Clanfield buses are the one and only form of transport available to them to get them into the main business centres of Witney and Oxford.  

But now the council is proposing reducing these services from hourly to two-hourly.  If you opened the online consultation paper you would notice that the Council spends under £190,000 a year on subsidies for these two routes.  Arguably, a 50% frequency reduction would probably result in 40% savings or £80,000 at best -  an insignificant sum in the annual County transport budget of just over £53 million, but a cut with very severe repercussions for many people living in the villages in question.

The Green Party’s view is simple.  We can’t provide public services just based on crude profit and losses calculations.  All too often the real benefits of these services are not taken into account, like CO2 reduction, equality of opportunities, wellbeing and other important social indicators.  If we carried out a true cost benefit analysis we wouldn't even discuss funding the HS2 and would instead spend the equivalent money into local transport services (rail, buses, cycle routes and so on).  But there is more, a study by Better transport has even identified that for every £1 spent on buses the real positive impact to the economy varies from £3 to £5 - so it makes sense to spend money on buses.  The social impact of cutting rural bus services is huge, like increased isolation, reduced employment opportunities and even poorer health.  Effectively by ‘saving’ a few thousand pounds on rural public transport we might risk loading another area of public expenditure like the NHS or the DSS with a much greater bill, let alone any added environmental costs.

Even reducing frequencies is sheer madness.  Countless previous examples across the UK have demonstrate that when frequency is reduced fewer people use the services affected.  Perversely reduced usage results in higher per head subsidies, which in turn makes the routes in question more vulnerable to further cuts and eventually total withdrawal.

No, the solution isn’t to bluntly cut services, but to improve them.  For Aston, Bampton and Clanfield for example minor improvements to the routing and timetable could result in higher usage.  Speaking from personal experience, I never understood why the Bampton to Oxford service was planned to run along the A40 from Eynsham to Wolvercote. It doesn't pick up passengers and it inevitably gets stuck in the usual traffic jam on that stretch of the road. If it were routed via Botley it could even serve the railway station (Frideswide Square) and more people may even use it! In addition, buses in and out of Witney should be made to connect with other services, especially those into Oxford.  By intelligent rerouting and rescheduling more opportunities to travel to and from Oxford would be offered to the public, with no additional costs;  per head subsidies would actually lower through higher usage, as well as contributing to safer and less congested roads.  When it comes to transport imagination and innovation are the required remedies,  not cuts.

People are thoroughly fed up of the assault on local public services.  Voters in rural areas in particular feel under siege from many directions.  Rapacious developers are eyeing every inch of the countryside as it’s inherently cheaper for them to pour concrete over green fields than brown ones; local councils, under pressure from central government, have adopted a slash and burn approach to services.

The bitter medicine of cuts is not working.  When there will be nothing left to cut we will be faced with a disintegrated and derelict social landscape where despair will be prevalent, with the affluent few looking over the fences of their gated communities.  By then the bill for putting things right will be much higher than any of today’s proposed savings.  But our old political parties prefer to leave the task of clearing up the mess to future generations, merely paying lip service at election times to sustainability and real economic reforms.  The Green Party’s horizons are thankfully much wider, encompassing an integrated, equitable and thoroughly modern society that doesn't just work for the few, but for the common good.

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