Leaked letter shows concern from top Labour councillors regarding plans to axe bus funding
A leaked letter from the Welsh Local Government Association has shown that top Labour councillors believe the Welsh Government’s plans to axe bus funding will cut off communities.
The Bus Emergency Scheme was put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic when passenger numbers plummeted and funding was recently extended on a temporary basis until June 2023.
The Welsh Government have now confirmed plans to scrap the scheme.
In a letter to the First Minister, Mark Drakeford, dated 13th March, Labour Councillors Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart, the WLGA’s Leader and Deputy Leader, outlined several issues in the Welsh Government’s “Top-down” transport policy, which was causing a “perfect storm for communities” and an approach to bringing about change in transport policy that is “all stick and no carrot”.
The letter to the First Minister outlined several areas of concern, including the Roads Review, where there was limited contact with council Leaders after the review had reached its conclusions.
The letter also referred to a lack of investment in public transport alternatives and mentioned a “sheer volume of transport-related issues” which is leaving councils struggling to manage.
It also raised concerns that there would be implications from policies such as the default 20mph on school transport and winter service plans, with longer shifts needing to be covered.
The letter to the FM also warned that some policies would fuel social inequality and exclude residents where “public transport is a lifeline as they either cannot afford or are unable to drive”.
The Deputy First Minister’s conduct was also questioned as councillors said they are concerned “about the nature of the debate and tone of the meetings”.
Plaid Cymru held a debate in the Senedd on the future of the Bus Emergency Scheme earlier this week which called on the Welsh Government to extend the scheme for at least 18 months.
A motion also called on the government to bring forward long-term secure funding options to maintain bus services, as opposed to emergency funding schemes.
Both calls were rejected by the Welsh Government and transport minister Lee Waters.
The leaked letter reveals that Cllrs Andrew Morgan and Rob Stewart have called on the Welsh Government to secure funding for buses in the long term, writing: “The fact [Bus Funding] is being extended was welcomed but there was a call for ways to be found to make the funding permanent so that services can be protected.
“Whilst passenger numbers have not recovered post-Covid, they never will if services start to be cut across Wales.
“Loss of bus services is potentially devastating for these groups [older people, young people, people with disabilities and low income households], impacting on their well-being by restricting access to educational, economic, health and leisure services and to family and social contacts.”
Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for Local Government, Llyr Gruffydd MS, said: “It’s clear that Plaid Cymru’s serious concerns about the future of transport throughout Wales are shared by councillors in all parts of Wales.
“The Welsh Government’s current plans on buses are set to leave communities without public transport options. This could be disastrous for many – particularly older people, vulnerable groups, poorer communities, and those who live in rural areas.
“It was also worrying to read in the WLGA’s letter to the First Minister that there are issues surrounding the conduct of the Deputy Minister for Transport, particularly the ‘nature of the debate and tone of the meetings’.
“At the centre of any plan to ensure a greener future for all of Wales must be a public transport system that is improved and equally available to all. Any plan to ensure this must take everyone in Wales along with it.”
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