Can there be any residents who were not shocked and dismayed when Somerset County Council’s £22m overspend was revealed in September 2016? This disgraceful situation is compounded by opposition County Councillors saying the County could even declare itself bankrupt by the end of the financial year in April 2017!
The state of the County Council’s (in)capacity to manage its affairs is surely reflected in the level of service and protection it provides to families and children – with Children’s Services in ‘special measures’ following the 2013 and 2015 Ofsted inspections judging the overall effectiveness of arrangements for the protection of children “inadequate”.
If this were not enough, for many of us, there are daily reminders of the cuts implemented by Somerset in their attempt to claw back on budgets; perhaps the most immediate being the impact of the recent cuts and changes to the County’s bus services… and, what a shambles that has been!
Shouldn’t we be embarrassed to watch the current administration – seemingly incapable of keeping to their decisions; with one eye on the County Council elections in May – scrabbling around to find emergency funding to help cover the costs of the 67 service following the outcry from residents of Wookey Hole, Wells, and Burnham-On-Sea when the service was initially cut?
The County Council says it spends around £1.6m subsidising bus services across the county, but the huge pressure on all its budgets means it cannot afford to continue to fully support the services we need. Here in Street and Glastonbury, with so many of us reliant on the bus service, we’ve witnessed upheaval and several changes over the past year to the 29, 54, (3)75 and the (3)77 – with the withdrawal of the 55, following the collapse of WebberBus.
Glastonbury’s Mayor, and frequent bus user, Cllr. Jon Cousins recently commented: “Due to recent cuts the bus service on Sundays and Bank Holidays is limited or non-existent on some routes. There’s no bus service to and from Taunton at any time on Sundays! Evening services have also been reduced. In addition, it seems as though Wells Bus Station has now become the default destination if travelling to Street or Glastonbury from Bristol, Bath, or Shepton Mallet.”
Adding: “It sometimes feels that I’m the only Councillor in Somerset who ever catches the bus. Indeed, I’ve never seen a fellow Councillor on any the services I’ve used in the last 15 years… The fact that Councillors don’t use public transport must certainly account for the reason why there’s no direct bus service from Glastonbury to our nearest train station at Castle Cary!”
“One thing is for sure, if those Councillors responsible for determining the bus subsidies actually had to rely on public transport to travel around, then we’d have a best bus service in the UK!”
The loss of bus services affects access to a whole range of other services. According to a recently published report*, 51% of households in smaller rural areas do not have access to a regular bus service – and Government cuts are forcing councils like Somerset to slash spending on services by more than £27m, which impacts hardest on the young, elderly, and disabled people.
Glastonbury and Street Green Party understand that the bus service is absolutely vital for many people, and we believe it is time for a change. Be it simple improvements, such as clear, easy to understand, up-to-date information on local services being available at all bus stops or common sense approaches, for example – more bus stops with seating and shelter, or making it policy that local transport users must be fully involved in decisions on service levels. And surely, it should be expected that there would be provision of regular bus service to most villages and towns from their nearest station…
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If you would like to see a real change on Somerset County Council, then vote for the Green Party candidate in the County Council elections on Thursday, 4th May 2017.
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* Rural England Report: ‘State Of Rural Services’ [17th January 2017].